The Cartographer– Peter Twohig 2012


Linked to book web site.

QI – for Quite Intriguing. It is set in 1959, a year I remember well, but in Richmond and Melbourne with which I am less familiar – though I did know Sydney’s Surry Hills (shades of Ruth Park) at that time. Much in Peter Twohig’s highly imaginative recreation I found chimed well with my memory, though the presence still of World War 2 less so, even if it still astounds me that the war, during which I was born, really was still so close then.


Anzac drainage tunnel flowing into the Yarra with Melbourne Boy’s High School in the background.

This features in The Cartographer. You may care to click on the image to find out what the tunnels really were about!

An eleven-year-old boy witnesses a violent crime. Just one year before, he looked on helplessly as his identical twin died a violently. His determination that he himself is the link changes his life.

The Cartographer is a captivating novel about a tragic figure in a dark place. The nameless child who tells the story handles the terrors of his life by adopting the strengths of fictional pop culture characters he admires, drawing on comics, radio and television dramas, and movies, finally recreating himself as a superhero who saves himself by mapping, and who attempts to redeem himself by giving up his persona so that another may live again. His only mentors are a professional standover man, his shady grandfather, and an incongruous neighbourhood couple who intervene in an oddly coincidental way. 

In the dark, dangerous lanes and underground drains of grimy 1959 Melbourne, The Cartographer is a story bristling with outrageous wit and irony about an innocent who refuses to give in, a story peopled with a richness of shifty, dodgy and downright malicious bastards, mixed with a modicum of pseudo-aunts, astonishing super heroes, and a few coincidentally loving characters, some of whom are found in the most unlikely places.

See also Announcing: The Cartographer! and How to tell lies from Peter Twohig’s excellent writer’s blog.

Fiction writers are a bunch of liars. I don’t care how well you know them, which monastery they live in, which brand of polygraph they routinely flatline. Those people lie in their teeth. And what’s more, they’re damned good at it. Otherwise, you’d be reading their stories and saying to yourself with each turn of the page, ‘Oh my god, does she expect me to believe this drivel?’

Let me tell you something about the author: she doesn’t have to expect you to swallow it: she knows you will. She knows that you want to believe, that you want to be lied to. That you want to be conned — make that lulled. She knows you because she remembers all the times she allowed some author to enchant her. And how she didn’t want it to stop.

I could have danced all night,

I could have danced all night,

And still have asked for more

And so on.

Just occasionally, in my opinion, The Cartographer goes just that bit too far over the top…. But did I enjoy it? Sure did. And is there a hell of a lot of truth in its lies? Sure is! And the language is generally spot on.

See Patricia Maunder in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Indeed, The Cartographer is a genuinely dark tale at times. Richmond was a dangerous and depressed part of town when Twohig grew up there in the 1950s and ’60s, so placing his child protagonist in the thick of it sometimes reads like a cathartic nightmare. Yet this book oozes gentle humour, particularly through colourful, vintage turns of phrase and the boy’s observations of the adult world, which are either amusingly naive or hilariously on the money. It can also be a disarmingly poignant story.

The Cartographer is a remarkable first novel whose vivid descriptions, original, engaging voice and surprising hero-in-the-rough draws the reader into a labyrinth of danger and discovery.

Back then but in The Gong

This lovely shot appeared in the historical feature in today’s Illawarra Mercury.


Yes, a C32 – remember them well – passing by Clifton in 1960. Note the Holden. Train travel was quite an adventure still in those days. Sitting in a train like that reading Sherlock Holmes went down rather well.

2 thoughts on “The Cartographer– Peter Twohig 2012

  1. Thanks for the great plug, Neil. Glad you like it. I’m currently writing a sequel (in the same voice) and having lots of fun. That’s a great shot of Melbourne High, take from a spot only a hundred metres from the centre of the action. Access to the upper reaches of that turquoise drain has been blocked. I’ll keep you posted. Love your blog, which I just discovered and will keep an eye on. Cheers, Pete.

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