The Delinquents – Criena Rohan

My dad recently visited Australia and brought back a few books from an independent Australian publisher called Text. They do a specialist line of Text Classics, of which The Delinquents is one, these classics are books that they consider essential to Australian literature. If you visit their website, they explain the need for the Text Classics series, stating, “Those of us who choose and influence what people might read have done a lamentable job of curating the primary materials of our literary history”. Text is attempting to celebrate Australian literature in the same manner that we celebrate the history of British, French, American, Russian and many other literary legacies.

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Kylie Minogue and Charlie Schlatter in the 1989 film adaptation

In this novel we are shown a seedy underworld to Australia that most people may not associate with this country. A love story set in Brisbane during the 1950s, we see the lives of two young people go through multiple issues over the course of a number of years. This is a Brisbane of drinking, prostitution and crime, plus all the problems that come alongside these. There is also a disdain for Australian authority, namely the police and the social services.

An overriding theme of this novel is female independence, Lola is often able to survive by herself. She holds various jobs, earning for herself so as to keep herself alive and free for her boyfriend. The novel shows women doing what they have to do to get by, despite facing adversity in pregnancy, poverty and prostitution.  We see her grow from a young girl to a woman throughout the novel.

Another theme that is evident is that of immigration. Australia is still a young country, and the characters are reflective of that, their backgrounds are referred to frequently; Norwegian, English, Scandinavian, Geordie, etc. The characters are all trying to find a place for themselves in Australia, and are reminiscent of characters in early American literature.

The Delinquents is a novel of love, rebellion, and most importantly, of Australia itself. It is a socially realist novel, showing how absurd some of the treatment of the main characters is, and criticises the almost puritanical beliefs of 1950s Australian society. Maybe not a classic in terms of fantastic writing, this is a classic in terms of helping Australian literature find a voice for itself.

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