A Man of Marbles by Rod Usher

I first read this novel in 2009, and reread it in 2011. My review:

‘Because that’s not the way Stavros does things, I suppose.’

Stavros ‘Stan’ Kristopolis is an Australian greengrocer of Greek heritage.  Stan, aged 34, lives and works with his parents Alex and Marie in Richmond, a working class area of Melbourne.  When he travels to the fruit markets early in the morning to purchase produce for the day’s trading, he likes to take his white rabbit, called Doe.

‘Strange how a white rabbit can get ‘em going.’

When Stan jumps off the pavement to dance, Zorba-like in Bridge Street, the police intervene.  Is Stan a fool: is his natural exuberant innocence an asset or a liability?  Others are keen to apply labels, but are they appropriate?

‘The term ‘certified’ is avoided in favour of ‘recommended’ nowadays; it is easier to padlock a euphemism.’

Stan has a friend, Rose Gallagher, who works as a barmaid.  Rose has a son who is in gaol, and her inability to help him (he wants a television) makes her sad.  Stan decides to help but Stan’s acquisition of a television set and subsequent delivery to Rose has some unintended consequences.  A few days later, a man is murdered outside the hotel where Rose Gallagher works, and when the police arrive Stan is with him.  Stan was trying to help, as is his way, but finds himself accused of murder.  The evidence?   Well, Gus Erickson, the murdered man had a relationship with Rose, and jealousy is considered to be the motive.  It’s enough to get Stan remanded and Rose sacked.  When Stan is convicted of murder and incarcerated in Pentridge Gaol he seems to take it in his stride.

’He got annoyed, at times, flattened, suffered loneliness and fear, but his reserves were never plumbed.’

Fortunately for Stan, corroborating evidence will come to light and he will be set free.

I first read this novel in 2009, and reread it recently to try to understand why I enjoyed it so much.  Stan is a lovely person, but his passive innocence makes him an unusual hero.  There is a wonderful scene where Stan introduces the game of marbles to his fellow prisoners and some delightful interactions with customers and friends in his pre-gaol life.  Stan succeeds in his own life on his own terms, other events may intervene but they do not distract him for long.  There’s a lot to admire about Stan.

‘For the first time in his life his son the fool seemed rather wise.’

Jennifer Cameron-Smith