Winner of the 2015 Miles Franklin Award, Sofie Laguna’s bittersweet novel is imbued with a magical sense of ‘other’ but which is also firmly grounded in the daily lives of a working-class Melbourne family.
Six year-old Jimmy Flick is certainly different. And not everyone knows how to take him – including his dad. Yet the boy and his voice are exceptional and unique, a larrikin character somewhere on the (unspecified) autism/Asperger scale. His precocious insight and intelligence is beyond his years (and most of the adult characters around him).
It’s only his mother who understands Jimmy and connects with the boy whose excess energy seems out of control. School has given up on him, resulting in more and more indulged time with his mother and her love for cake. Ma is certainly struggling – overweight and asthmatic, she is surviving an abusive and violent marriage and finds solace in Agatha Christie murder mysteries and eating. A victim of an abusive father himself, Gav blames Jimmy for driving him to drink.
The Flick family world spirals even more out of control when Gav is laid off from the refinery and Robby, Jimmy’s elder brother, takes off for work on the fishing boats off the West Australian coast. Jimmy must now come to terms with change.
In Jimmy Flick, author Sofie Laguna has created a memorable, loveable yet incredibly astute child. The Eye of the Sheep is narrated through his voice and observations and comments are peppered with humour, pathos and child logic. But there is also an unexpected steely-edged determination to Jimmy as he is forced into a different world to the (ironically) safe haven of home and its known sense of order.
Considering its subject matter, The Eye of the Sheep is a surprisingly uplifting novel, in spite of the horrors Jimmy has to survive. In reality, the ending is a little too upbeat – whilst welcoming redemption, at the end of the day it comes across as a little too pat and contrived. Which is a pity as it undoes, to some extent, the impact of everything that had come before it.