denise young
australian writer

home

book

reviews

prizes

last ride film

media

about denise

contact

links

Reviews

- The Weekend Australian
- Sydney Morning Herald
- Herald Sun, Melbourne
- The Bulletin
- Qantas The Australian Way


The Weekend Australian June 12-13 2004

Denise Young's The Last Ride starts hard and fast and keeps going, tackling bends without losing control. Chook is a sensitive boy whose father Kev is a relentless bundle of anger, maybe with murder on his hands. Chook has no option but to stick with Kev as they head into the night to Broken Hill ('You don't say no to his dad for long, not if you want to keep your teeth.') They hide in an old tin mosque, where Chook befriends a female doctor who comes to pray; Kev rages and drags his son deeper into Koori lands ('We're mongrels, us,' says Kev. 'We're whatever we want to be.') Young's handling of suppressed violence is impressive, with a muted finale to Kev's dreams of escape.

top

Sydney Morning Herald June 5-6 2004

Bronwyn Rivers

The narrative voice is the great strength of Denise Young's The Last Ride, another first novel. The story is told from the point of view of a child, Chook, and the youthful vulnerability behind his defensive toughness is beautifully captured. His sense of what is right struggles gainst his loyalty to his father; his grief for his friend, Max, is made clear in a particularly powerful scene. Young uses small details evocatively: the comfort Chook derives from his beloved collection of Matchbox cars is especially touching.

The novel suddenly becomes darker when it turns out that this love for Max has survived the grossest of betrayals. Young strays into dangerous territory at this point; her representation of Chook's response to this betrayal may prove volatile. Chook's father, Kev, has to beat a hasty retreat from a property near Sofala after he assaults Max. Chook has time only to collect his toy cars before he and Kev leap into their (stolen) car and set out for Broken Hill and what they hope will be the protection of one of Kev's ex-girlfriends. In Broken Hill, they break into a mosque for refuge. The story gains momentum when Chook tells their story to a worshipper at the mosque and the stakes are raised even higher.

Although something of a type, the character of Kev is a good blend of the comic and the horrific. He is alternately rough and tender with his son, and he appears in turn as lovable crook or disturbing criminal to the reader. However, the dialogue is sometimes a little creaky, especially several polemical conversations about Aboriginal culture.

The difficulty with stories of desperadoes on the run is how to end them. From the start, the forces ranged against Kev are obviously overwhelming: the question is not whether he will be captured, but where and how. Young's ending manages a blend of the positive and negative, but important questions about Chook's fate are left unanswered. The sympathy skilfully generated for him means we want him to be happy - but his history of deprivation portends otherwise.

Bronwyn Rivers is a postdoctoral fellow in English at the University of NSW.

top

The Herald Sun, Melbourne May 1 2004

Peter Pierce

Australian and American fiction and film has had plenty of road stories, and few have been more desolating than Denise Young's first novel, The Last Ride.

In this debut novel of distinction, Kev and his son Chook, who is nearly 11, suddenly have to leave a farm where they have been staying near Sofala, NSW.

As has happened so often in Chook's young life, they are on the road again and on the run.

The boy is used to an itinerant existence with his father. His mother left the pair when Chook was two. His father's life has been 'one big camp'; he has never had a real home, 'at least not one with a rood and no wheels', Young writes.

Yet it is Chook's sustaining article of faith that he and his dad will stick together forever. The boy reaches out to, and for, others: to girlfriends of his father, to Max who owns the farm. Always such contacts are broken because of his father's restlessness, his rage against the world.

The flight takes them to Dubbo, then by a long bus journey to Broken Hill late at night, where the pair are forced to take refuge in the mosque built for Afghan camel-drivers. There Chook encounters Dr Zarina Khan, who has come to work for the Flying Doctor Service.

To her he confides: 'My heart's broken in two. Twice. So it's broken in four.' Yet it is a good heart.

Chook has something of Huckleberry Finn in him - an innate kindness that survives the violence of the adult world around him. The plight of this brave lost child is the core of the remarkable The Last Ride.

top

The Bulletin May 25 2004

The title of Denise Young's excellent first novel, The Last Ride, is not sprightly but it is fair to the sad tale that she relates. Kev, an angry man who feels belittled and betrayed, is on the run from a crime of violence committed against an old friend. He flees by car, bus, finally on foot. With him is his adoring and increasingly desperate son, Chook.

In a night 'dark as a wild dog's den', they come to Broken Hill and hole up in the galvanised iron mosque built by Afghan camel drivers. Here 10-year-old Chook performs the first of his crucial acts of resistance against his father. It is also an act of restitution. The boy's dramas of conscience are handled with insight and delicacy.

Chook is as near as we have had to an Australian Huck Finn. He is also the latest in the plangent line of lost children in our literature, and history. It seems that in this society, the youngest bear most, although there is a frustrated love in Kev, for all his dishevelled past, of the flights that have punctuated his life.

Chook reckons that 'his dad's whole life has been one big camp'. Young writes with a vernacular ease that masks intense effort. The story hurries towards its inevitably bleak conclusion. But The Last Ride might be the start of a fine career.

top

Qantas The Australian Way magazine May 2004

Little kid, big problem is the central theme in this breakneck debut novel. Chook is 10. He's lived with his itinerant dad, Kev, since his mother ran off. Kev is erratic and violent. He can't keep a job, or a woman, but no-one's taking his son away from him. Chook loves his dad, but when Kev pulls him out of bed in the middle of the night, leaving their old mate Max bleeding on the floor, he starts to think Dad's gone too far. As they head for Broken Hill in a stolen car, Chook is torn between love for his father and his desire for normalcy. Like the tattoos on Kev's fists, this is a contest between love and rage. Sometimes it's pretty hard to tell the difference, especially when you're just a kid. Excellent stuff.

top

 

 

 


The Last Ride