The Everlasting Sunday…
About the Book:
During the freezing English winter of 1962, seventeen-year-old Radford is sent to Goodwin Manor, a great and isolated house in country Shropshire for boys who have been ‘found by trouble’. Drawn immediately to the charismatic West, Radford soon discovers that each one of them has something to hide. Life at the Manor offers a refuge of sorts, but the onset of a deathly winter and unexpected new arrivals threaten the fragile dynamics. At once beautiful and haunting, The Everlasting Sunday is a haunting debut novel about growing up, growing wild, and what it takes to survive.
Highly atmospheric, yet deeply unsettling, The Everlasting Sunday is a meticulous account of toxic masculinity within a setting of inverted institutionalisation. During a winter freeze, a teenager arrives at a reform home for boys located deep in the English countryside. We don’t know what he’s done to arrive at this fate, and indeed, as we quickly learn, it is the policy of this home that the boys do not have to disclose their reasons for being there unless they personally choose to. There are no locks on the doors inside of this home and the boys roam freely, even down to the local village, challenging the traditional notions of a reform home as a place of retribution.
The home is run by Teddy, a man who sees his only purpose as keeping the boys safe and alive, and who takes a quite liberal view on what the boys should or shouldn’t be doing with their time while living at the Manor. Yet I found his philosophy somewhat contradictory in terms of its grounding in reality. The boys within this home have all been sent there, put away in a sense, to a far corner of England where they essentially can become someone else’s problem. They have all done something to earn this fate, and they are all, by inclination, volatile to a certain degree. Teddy aims to keep them safe from a worse fate, yet he is powerless to protect them from each other. Institutionalisation without structure sees the Manor flex under the stress of anarchy, on more than one occasion. While I could appreciate where Teddy was coming from, I honestly felt his method was flawed and doomed to failure. In trying to eliminate toxic masculinity, he instead inadvertently fostered it. There can be no doubt though, of the positive effect that Teddy tried to have on each of the boys. He offered them truth and bore them no judgement. For those who were willing, what he offered was a safe passage through adolescence. A chance at a fresh start.
“‘Each generation feels it stands on the precipice of eternal decline,’ Teddy said. ‘And every generation has thought that it alone is correct in this judgement. We believe the best is behind us, that there’s a time that would suit us better and it’s always just gone, just out of reach.’”
This novel veers from quiet contemplation with moments of wonderful introspection and observation into a brutality that is confronting and at times disturbing. I balanced between being repelled by some of the actions by the boys, yet compelled to keep reading, gripped by a narrative strongly underpinned with a sense of doom. As a unique touch, Robert Lukins has fashioned Winter into a character, a presence unlike any other I have encountered within a novel before. Robert is quite a master with words, lyrically weaving them all together with visual clarity, blunt force, and impeccable timing.
“Trees bore witness to so much. The passing of kings and centuries of wordless battles. They saw whole lives, their beginnings and vicious ends. And yet they did nothing. Said nothing.”
While there were parts of this novel that I found difficult to read, I do like how the narrative challenged me. There is a lot to contemplate within this novel, and a lot to appreciate. The Everlasting Sunday is a fine debut and I feel certain this is only the beginning of great literary endeavours for Robert Lukins.
Thanks is extended to UQP for providing me with a copy of The Everlasting Sunday for Review.
About the Author:
Robert Lukins lives in Melbourne and has worked as an arts researcher and journalist. His writing has been published widely, including in The Big Issue, Rolling Stone, Crikey, Broadsheet and Overland.
Robert was my guest on Behind the Pen recently. You can read the interview here.