The Time We Have Taken by Steven Carroll

Steven Carroll is one of my favourite Australian authors.  I read his work slowly, because reflection is important.

‘A shop, is, in short, the flag of settlement.’

One summer day in 1970, Peter van Rijn as he drives to work, realises that his Melbourne suburb is one hundred years old. He realises this because he drives past a building, a shop, built in 1870. The same morning that Peter, who owns a television and wireless shop, gathers this thought, Rita is awakened by a dream of her husband Vic.  But Vic moved north years ago.  Their son Michael has moved into the city to teach and is falling in love.

‘One minute you’re twenty and it’s all there before you, the next it’s gone.’

A celebration is planned for the suburb, an artist friend of Michael’s is commissioned to paint a mural of the suburb’s history.

And while the planning goes on, and people wonder what the mural will reveal, we explore the past through the musings of Rita, Vic, Michael and of Mrs Webster the widowed factory-owner.

‘Love can be won and lost, lives come and go, everything that may matter in someone’s life may be contained in a moment – just as whole worlds can turn or crumble in one.’

This novel is a beautifully constructed reflection on change, life, and progress at both an individual and collective (suburb) level. As I read, I became annoyed with Vic (for essentially just waiting to die) but recognised others (in real life) doing the same thing.  I marvelled at how Rita, whose world seems so constrained, seemed to have a motive force that others lacked.  I agonised for Michael, learning that change can be imposed as well as sought, and I wondered how much Mrs Webster knew about Mr Webster’s world.

‘The remains of the old life mingle with the new.’

What can I tell you about this novel, about how it made me think about the spaces I’ve occupied and the passage of time?  Buildings usually outlive original purpose and occupants, people grow older and change. This, for me, was a novel to read slowly, to savour, to reflect on. Mr Carroll’s writing always holds my attention.  Three of my favourite quotes from the novel:

’That lost tribe.  At once exotic, strange and utterly familiar.  Gone.  Wiped away by time and speed.’

‘The suburb had grown, its children had left home, the factory’s workers had aged with the factory and the suburb didn’t need it anymore.’

‘We were Progress, only we didn’t know it then.’

This is the third novel in Mr Carroll’s Glenroy series.  It was originally intended as a trilogy but grew to six novels.  I’ve not read them all yet, and I’ve not read them in sequence, but this has not reduced my enjoyment.  I still have a couple to look forward to.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith


‘And all the time, the living suburb is constantly evolving, through night and day, weekend and working week, sunshine and rain, ever forward, ever onward, until that perfect day arrives, surely not too far away, when the straight line of History can lie down its perfect summer gardens and pronounce its job done.’

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