A Long Way From Home, by Peter Carey.
This is a story about not getting what you want, and learning to live with the consequences; of metamorphosis and adapting to the change in yourself and your circumstances.
It starts out lightly. Irene and Titch Bobs have moved to the (then) sleepy town of Bacchus Marsh, in an attempt to escape the shadow of Titch's famous, domineering father. Irene is determined that Titch will be his own man and this leads eventually to their entry in the Redex trial, a famous car rally that circumnavigated Australia. The author has drawn from history, here, and the rallies were actual events, and a lot of the characters he describes really were competitors. This added to the book, for me; in fact I ended up googling Irene Bobs just to see if she was real.
So off they set, with their neighbour Willie Bachhuber as navigator, a role that he turns out to be surprisingly good at. If you're at all interested in motor races and cars, as I am, this is one of the most enjoyable sections of the book. The author vividly brings to life the trials and dangers of the rally and the inhospitable country which they face. There's a bit of bush-mechanic-ing thrown in for good measure and added colour. The book doesn't shy away from the ugly side of Australia's history, either - in fact it becomes integral to the plot as the story progresses.
Broome is where events come to a head; the book to me stagnates a bit after then but soon picks up speed again as it follows these three on their individual paths.
The story is told via alternating viewpoints; one chapter Irene Bobs and the next Willie Bachhuber, up until the last few chapters where we lose Irene's voice. I felt Irene's story deserved a bit more time, as I don't think it was thoroughly resolved, but then it is Willie whose circumstances continued to change so I guess it's natural that the book should follow him to the end.
The other main characters are the inhabitants of an Aboriginal camp, and Australia itself - huge, desolate, sprawling, with a fringe of coastal green to keep the desert sand at bay. This is the country that Willie comes to know, rather more than he wants to!
I think this book especially spoke to me because I still remember the Australia that Carey writes about; the suburbs on the fringes of cities where the main street was tarred but everything running perpendicular were still hard-packed dirt; the highway no more than a goat track - oh and I can relate to their trip through the Snowy Mountains with no brakes! But even without that firsthand knowledge,it's still an amazing read. I was grabbed by the first sentence - For a girl to defeat one father is a challenge, but there were two standing between me and what I wanted, which was - not to fiddle-faddle - a lovely little fellow named Titch Bobs. And it kept me engrossed all the way.
Edited to add: not sure what went wrong but my LJ cut isn't working - retyped a couple of times and still the whole entry is showing. But I guess LJ is quiet enough now that I can get away with it.