REVIEW: The Lucky Galah by Tracy Sorensen

In brief: In the late 1960s, a small coastal Australian town plays a vital role in the moon landing. Telling this story is Lucky, a galah.

The good: I loved having a bird narrator! The insights from the Dish about the townspeople were also fascinating.

The not-so-good: I felt so bad when Lucky was caged.

Why I chose it: Can’t go past a bird narrator – thank Pan Macmillan for the copy.

Year: 2018

Pages: 279

Publisher: Picador (Pan Macmillan)

Setting: Coastal Western Australia

Rating: 9 out of 10

It’s no secret that I adore birds. So when I first heard about The Lucky Galah, I was desperate to read it. I have a multi-generational family of these beautiful pink and grey cockatoos that visit regularly and reading about them just sounded like so much fun! The added bonus of this story is that it’s set in an area I’m familiar with, north west coastal Western Australia. The fictional town of Port Badminton is a close ringer for the town of Carnarvon, dish and all. But in the 1960s, many things are happening in this small town…

Lucky tells us the story, switching between the 1960s (an unhappy time for her, caged and unloved in a backyard) and present day. Lucky notes that her life is much happier now, selecting books to rip up with human companion Lizzie. She’s free to move about and be a true companion. Lucky’s a very smart bird, noting that her rise to freedom starts just as Evan Johnson, radar technician, begins to fall… The Johnsons are the key characters of the story, moving from Melbourne to Port Badminton so Evan can work on the dish that will be receiving signals for the moon landing when it happens. While Evan is happy, it’s a culture shock for wife Linda. She’s a fish out of water in this town that is rather frontier like in its manners and customs; plus it’s just too hot! Linda’s not sure if she’s happy to settle to be just Mrs Johnson or whether something more could be lurking across the Causeway.

Lucky sees it all from her home at the Kelly’s (next door but one). The Kelly family is completely different to the Johnsons – loud with children and no airs or graces. But are Marj and Kevin truly happy with their lot too? Lucky sees it, and as she grows wiser can hear the transmissions from the satellite dish on the edge of town. Later, she can interpret these thoughts and this is the clever way that the reader gets into the heads of Linda, Evan, Marj, Kevin and others. While Port Badminton is a small town in the middle of nowhere, it’s never dull. The threads of different people come into Lucky’s sphere and she tells parts of their stories, focusing on the feelings and descriptions.

The overall plot of the book is the build up to the moon landing, but it’s not really the focus. It’s the objective that most of the characters orbit around, but there are some like the Dogger who prefer to make their own tracks. Evan is a slave to his work, distracted and rarely taking his eyes off the task. Linda wants to break out of the mould, but isn’t quite strong enough to make a clean break. Poor Lucky doesn’t have a choice at all and I found these descriptions quite upsetting as a bird lover! Tracy Sorensen really gets into Lucky’s head and I could both believe and accept that this novel was being narrated by a galah. Lucky, you can have tea and a biscuit with me any time!

The description in The Lucky Galah is also spot on. The scenes of the hot, dusty streets and the roaring of the cyclonic winds are just perfect. It truly evokes memories of that area just above the 26th parallel from the jetty to the river. Overall, I really enjoyed this book because of Lucky and the setting. It seems strange to have a bird narrator, but it worked perfectly for me.

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