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Everything I Knew (2008)

by Peter Goldsworthy

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485473,010 (3.83)19
It's the year 1964, and fourteen-year-old know-it-all Robbie Burns is about to discover he still has a lot to learn. The world is changing fast, although the news has yet to reach the small South Australian town of Penola. There Robbie leads an idyllic life of rabbiting, backyard science experiments, and hooligan scrapes with his friend Billy. Penola is oblivious even to its minor celebrity as the birthplace of the poet John Shaw Neilson, but poetry means the world to Robbie's new teacher from the city, the stylish Miss Peach, a sixties sophisticate with stirrup pants, Kool cigarettes and Vespa scooter. Miss Peach's artistic yearnings and modern ways prove too much for the good people of Penola, but they fire Robbie's precocious imagination and burgeoning sexuality, until what begins as a schoolboy fantasy has terrible, real consequences. Everything I Knewchallenges our determination to believe in the innocence of childhood and adolescence. Yet again it shows Peter Goldsworthy to be a master of shifting tone, from the comic to the tragic, and 'one of the few Australian writers to command superb technique' (Sydney Morning Herald)… (more)
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Showing 5 of 5
In 1964, the unfortunately named Robbie Burns is fourteen years old in the small town of Penola in South Australia. He's bright and precocious, writing endless science fiction novels, surviving the tough world of High School, and becoming mesmerised by his new teacher, the young, glamourous and passionately intellectual Miss Peach, who seems to want to mentor Robbie and help him with his writing.

Miss Peach is unlike anything the town has ever seen before, with her passion for poetry and art, her Vespa scooter, her stylish Audrey Hepburn fashions, her Kool cigarettes. The entire school seems to fall under her spell, but Robbie falls particularly hard given he's a teenager and she seems to be singling him out for special treatment.

I do have to say I didn't really get into this novel. It was evocative, but it was obviously all going to end rather badly so I never really wanted to warm to any of the characters. Miss Peach acted badly, Robbie was your typical sex-crazed egocentric teenager who is just far too literary to be totally believable, and most of the adults were unimpressive as well with their jealousies and flirtations with Miss Peach.

Although Miss Peach's housemates and fellow teachers, Miss Hammond and Miss Burke, never seen without a glass of wine and a cigarette to share between the two of them, and never heard without a quip to put down Robbie, are wonderful creations.

I read this for my bookgroup, and I do have to say that everyone else enjoyed it much more than I did! I barely took part in the discussions, because I just didn't care enough about the characters to want to discuss it or think about it beyond the initial read. I didn't hate it, but neither did I love it or even particularly enjoy it.

And while the final coda on memory and its notorious unreliability was excellent, and made me think that maybe it'd be worthwhile to go back and re-read sections, it was just all a bit too little, too late. ( )
  wookiebender | Nov 4, 2009 |
powerful, confronting and compelling ( )
  durrumbul | Oct 20, 2009 |
Robbie Burns is a 14 year old who is infatuated by his new English teacher. Young Miss Peach is impressed by Robbie's naive creativity and nascent brilliance and attempts to mentor his early narrative efforts. Robbie's stories become increasingly turgid apocalyptic fantasies as his disastrous infatuation with Miss Peach develops.

His obsession with Miss Peach changes his perception of the small South Australian town and destroys his friendship with part-Aboriginal Billy.

Peter Goldsworthy enjoys working with the illicit and like Maestro, I feel a sense of restriction as the older less open Robbie Burns returns to sort out his parent's effects. Robbie's obsession with time travel stories is the framing device for the major event of his life and its futility. ( )
  merry10 | Oct 17, 2009 |
Everything I Knew is a compelling book with a confronting moral dilemma at the heart of it. With an engaging cast of characters, it brings small town attitudes and conformity to life. To read my review and some suggested questions for discussion, see http://anzlitlovers.wordpress.com/2009/09/30/everything-i-knew-by-peter-goldswor... ( )
  anzlitlovers | Sep 29, 2009 |
Set in the sixities in a small country town in South Australia, Goldsworthy paints a very real picture of first love - a lonely adolscent's crush on his attractive, young teacher, an d in turn, her love for a married professor. The ending was never going to be good! Having grown up in the sixties this story rings very true - and beautifully written in the usual Goldsworthy style. ( )
  heathereb | Apr 19, 2009 |
Showing 5 of 5
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Universe, Milky Way, Solar System, Earth, Australia, South Australia, Penola, Church Street, 26.
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It's the year 1964, and fourteen-year-old know-it-all Robbie Burns is about to discover he still has a lot to learn. The world is changing fast, although the news has yet to reach the small South Australian town of Penola. There Robbie leads an idyllic life of rabbiting, backyard science experiments, and hooligan scrapes with his friend Billy. Penola is oblivious even to its minor celebrity as the birthplace of the poet John Shaw Neilson, but poetry means the world to Robbie's new teacher from the city, the stylish Miss Peach, a sixties sophisticate with stirrup pants, Kool cigarettes and Vespa scooter. Miss Peach's artistic yearnings and modern ways prove too much for the good people of Penola, but they fire Robbie's precocious imagination and burgeoning sexuality, until what begins as a schoolboy fantasy has terrible, real consequences. Everything I Knewchallenges our determination to believe in the innocence of childhood and adolescence. Yet again it shows Peter Goldsworthy to be a master of shifting tone, from the comic to the tragic, and 'one of the few Australian writers to command superb technique' (Sydney Morning Herald)

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