Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Shark Net

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The Shark Net

In his memoir; The Shark Net, Robert Drewe reflects on his journey from childhood to adulthood in Perth. Revealing both the darker and lighter manner of life, including homicide, fear, hypocrisy, family reputation and class distinction. These are the main themes in his memoir, Drewe expresses the themes through clever use of symbols and vocabulary.

Drewe establishes his major themes of murder, evil and impending danger, in the frontispiece and the prologue. Quotation from both Brecht and Ionesco produce a sinister tone, especially the song ‘Mac the knife’, which almost foreshadows the numerous murders featured in the book. Ionesco’s quote is from the theatre of the absurd, which stresses the absurdity of bourgeoisie or in this case the values of the middle class, and the life style they lead, this connects to the theme of class distinction and hypocrisy. The quote ‘You can only predict things after they have happened’ may be seen as a summary of the book, throughout the book there are many unseen dangers which were never released until it was too late.

All through his memoir, Drewe is troubled by guilt. As a little boy stealing comics with his friends. His guilt is evident when he recollects the incident at the Billy Graham crusade on pg. 168 ‘His [Billy] own eyes, as sharp and goggling as Bette Davis’s…snapped around the showground, instantly found mine, as I’d feared they would, and bored right into my evil teenage soul’. Later in life Drewe feels guilty for his mother’s death, which he is not responsible for. This feeling is aroused by the family doctor suggesting that Drewe may have been a cause of his beloved mother’s death. From the start of the book, we learn of Drewe’s guilt for winking back at Cooke at the committal trail

And there was another thing something pretty horrible; part of me had also responded to recognition from a celebrity-even from the worst type of celebrity.

Drewe’s feeling is in stark contrast to that of Cooke, who feels no guilt or remorse for the murders.

Drewe also tackles underlying social issues, which also contribute to the themes. Coming from a middle class family, Drewe draws upon his experience and exposes the darker side of middle class society like hypocrisy, double standards and the importance of maintaining good social standing. Drewe’s parents are willing to forsake their emotions and relationships in order to establish and maintain a good reputation in Perth. Royce especially values his job at Dunlop above all things, including his family, he, himself proudly admits it by saying ‘…Dunlop will always com first…’ The family’s life is dominated by Dunlop, Drewe as a boy was surrounded by Dunlop products. Royce’s commitment to Dunlop is show at Dot’s funeral that was not attended by any of Dot’s friends or any other family member other than Drewe, his brother and Royce. Royce sees the funeral of his wife as just ‘men’s business, and businessmen’s business at that’. It is quite sad that the most intimate service is turned into yet just another Sunday morning business appointment.

Drewe discovers the meaning of double standard and middle class mentality when Ruth fell pregnant and Drewe response is to marry her. His mother, Dot is mortified and ashamed of her son and candidly expresses her anger, ‘you know you have ruined your lives. You have wrecked this family’. Dot believes that pregnancy before marriage is almost a mortal sin in the 50’s and 60’s. To keep their good reputation Dot and Roy send Ruth and Robert to Waterman’s Bay on the outskirts of Perth to spare the family from humiliation. Dot is also concerned about a mixed religions marriage, as Drewe is a Protestant and Ruth is a Catholic, she did not mention the fact that Royce and her are also of different religious persuasions, an example of double standards. Ironically Royce and Dot’s concern for repute cost them their marriage and their happiness.

Hypocrisy is a major theme of Drewe’s memoir. This theme is expressed through Royce, who seems to everyone else a hard working family man, he is considered a respected member of society with friends in high and influential positions, but to Drewe he is a hypocrite. At a young age Drewe admires his father, he sees him as an authority figure, his affection for his father is shown by the playful whistle exchange between him and his father every night. However as Drewe matures, he becomes aware of his father’s hypocritical beahviours a notable example is Royce’s subscription to the ‘mirror’. Drewe is quite puzzled and almost in denial that his father, who would edit out inappropriate pictures out of every magazine in the house, so his children, will not be badly influenced could be reading the mirror. On another occasion Drewe caught his father in a compromising position with Mrs. Gwen Halliday. As Drewe matures, he begins to uncover his father’s hypocritical personality, which eventually resulted in a very cold and distant relationship between them.

Drewe uses reoccurring symbols to reinforce the themes of impending danger and creates a sinister atmosphere. Throughout his life, Drewe have been fascinated and intrigued by sharks, as a child Drewe even captured a carpet shark as a sign of strength in an attempt to impress his love interest, Roberta. The shark is almost like a metaphor of Cooke, an unseen killer, who is ever present searching and waiting for its next prey. As a child Drewe has an incredible imagination, and he reflects upon his sometimes-ridiculous childhood fears. These fears included Leo the Lion, the house falling down and boiling brain, the violent past at the Fremantle Prison and Rottnest Island, these fears symbolizes underlying threat and menace in life, these threats and menace inflict fear in Drewe and the Perth community. This theme of menace is present throughout the book

Where else but the white sand could there be such prospects for pleasure and danger?’

While Drewe deals with some very serious subject matter, his style is often, light of heart, humorous and sometimes sarcastic. He uses humor in exploring his journey through adolescence, his recollection of his first kiss, his first love and his attempts to impress Roberta, are all examples of his innocence and his naïve perspective on life. Drewe also expresses humor through certain characters, situations and events, such as his parents or the middle class’s pretensions, hypocrisy and concern for reputation. One example of his use of humor, is his frustration at his father for giving him the same gift every Christmas, Dunlop bumpers.

My father and Dunlop couldn’t grasp the essential flaw in their belief that teenage boys aspired to the shoes of their father. Maybe even to the slippers of their grandfathers’.

Drewe deals with some very serious and morbid issues in his memoir, such as homicide, double standards, hypocrisy and the death of his mother. However he is able to balance this with his light-hearted account of his adolescent years. Through Drewe’s rites of passage, he learns of good and dark aspect of life. The shark net makes an entertaining and serious book about Drewe’s personal journey from childhood to adulthood in isolated Perth.




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