This is my second book review for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013. I recently finished Annabel Smith‘s second novel, Whisky Charlie Foxtrot (Fremantle Press 2012). It is the story of two boys, identical twins, Charlie and Whisky, who have become estranged over the years. When Charlie gets the call that Whisky has had an accident and is in a coma, he realises he doesn’t want his brother to die.
The reader is led by Charlie through the tales of their childhood in England, and their adolescence and adulthood in Australia. It is told as flashbacks during Whisky’s coma. As children, an aunt gave the twins walkie-talkies and each chapter of the book takes its title from a word in the two-way radio alphabet, beginning with Alpha and ending with Zulu.
To Charlie, it has always seemed that everything has fallen into Whisky’s lap — popularity, sporting talent, fawning girls. Especially the girls. Girls that Charlie likes. Yet Whisky does nothing to deserve them, nor appreciate them when he gets them.
This story could have been milked for melodrama, the will-he-or-won’t-he make it question as a young man hovers on the verge of death. Equally, it could have been a tale of the ‘good’ child winning out over the ‘evil’ one, or a warning against the excesses of a hedonistic lifestyle. But, it is none of these.
Other reviewers have talked about Charlie’s growth throughout the story, of his self-examination and realization that he may not acted as purely as he wants to believe. Certainly, by the end of the book, the reader empathises with both boys: Whisky’s joie de vivre and drive is quite alluring, and his choice of wife shows that perhaps he knew what he wanted and what was important all along.
This is also a book about family and the strength of family bonds. God knows, everyone tolerates and forgives more from relatives than from anyone else. Siblings can be absolute bastards to each other, but at the end of the day, we’re tied to them through our shared childhoods, our genetics, our blood. This must be amplified for identical twins, who have the same DNA, same image, and who once shared a womb. Could such a bond ever really be severed?
Not only did I want to know how this story ended, but I enjoyed it as it went, feeling for Charlie the underdog and also for Whisky lying in a coma. The story unfolds seamlessly as it alternates between the present and the past. The drama unfolding in the hospital is handled with skill, and the book doesn’t slap you about the face with its message. It’s very moving, but not sentimental.
Hmm … difficult decision. I’ll say the scene early in the book, when Charlie kisses Louise (not all Louise’s are like this, by the way) and she lets him get to ‘third base’. I ached for Charlie when he realised she’d only done it to spite his brother.
There’s also a satisfying, romantic scene towards the end that I’d been waiting for and hoping might happen, but I can’t say anymore without giving it away …
Rosa, Whisky’s wife from Peru, the only one who sees his heart, sees all their hearts, is a rich character. I kept thinking of Gloria in Modern Family. I loved what she said and how she said it. And that she didn’t ‘bullshit’.
From Rosa (speaking to Charlie): ‘And your family is never going away. Always it is somebody’s birthday or somebody’s wedding, somebody is born or somebody dies and there they are, hanging around like a bad smell.’ So true, Rosa, so true.
I recently read Piano Lessons by Anna Goldsworthy, which I’ll review next. It just so happened Anna was performing in Perth at the weekend and I was able to attend. She read from her book then played the piano piece to which the reading pertained. It gave context and understanding to the music and was an evening not only I enjoyed, but also my twelve-year-old son.