Tracy Ryan's understated story stays with you – We Are Not Most People is a cool sensitive portrayal of pain.
Tracy Ryan's We Are Not Most People published by Transit Lounge Publishing.
We Are Not Most People by Tracy Ryan is the story of a couple whose attachment to each other fails due to the long-term damage they each carry from childhood. The respective traumas of a religious upbringing and an abusive family means that the couple’s love for each other fails to thrive. The novel opens with an unsettling scene set in London around 20 years ago where Terry is working in a bookshop in London, having left her old life, and her marriage back in Australia.
When Terry Riley was twelve she was in love with her French teacher, Monsieur Stocker. He is one of the few sensitive people in her world. Terry is lonely, isolated, and struggling to survive an unstable family life where her father is drunkenly violent towards her mother and a boorish culture where objectification of girls erodes the self-esteem of all young women. Her idealisation of Stocker is a secret she carries with her as she grows up.
Decades earlier, in Switzerland, Kurt Stocker’s oppressively religious family sent him to a seminary to train as a priest. The child Kurt is secretly ambivalent but is terrified of ‘failing’ his parents.
In the seminary he learns that spiritual concerns rank second to exploitation and hypocrisy, where a caste system exists that ensures younger boys are bullied and sexually abused, by the priests and by the older boys. Kurt, utterly unequipped for secular life, eventually leaves, and meets Liesel, with whom he travels to Australia in an attempt to put old Europe behind them. They marry but sex turns out to be disastrous.
Terry enters a convent but returns to the world after twelve weeks. When her former teacher comes back into Terry’s life, despite the thirty years between them they’re drawn to one another through an instinctive recognition of each other’s deep isolation and vulnerability. They move in together and eventually wed. But Kurt’s vows to his first wife, Liesel, along with the trauma of her extreme reaction to their first sexual experience means he’s unable to have intercourse with Terry. Terry’s long-held hero worship of Kurt means she’s left with few resources to challenge his attachment to Liesel. An adult relationship eludes them.
Ryan’s good clean prose makes for a deceptively simple read. The horrors of each character’s loneliness are related without embellishment. Terry’s story is related in the first person and Kurt’s in the third. Poet Ryan has paid careful attention to voice and to language, so the tone of each character is distinctive.
The message of how the sins of the fathers are passed on to the children is well expressed here without laboring any points. The book is rich in detail and gives us a clear sense of the different cultural contexts, suburban Australia in the 70s and village Switzerland in the 50s, along with the interior lives of its characters. It flows with a poetic rhythm. We Are Not Most People is an excellent read, written with a cool beguiling delicacy. This book is an admirably unpretentious and understanding take on some big themes and a woman’s struggle to save herself.
3 ½ ★★★☆
We Are Not Most People
By Tracy Ryan
Transit Lounge Publishing
Format: Trade PB 256pp
Publication Date: 01 /06 /2018
First published on
What the stars mean?
- Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
- Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
- Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
- Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
- Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
- Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
- Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
- One star: Awful, to be avoided
- Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level