"There’s a lot of sadness and madness in our family"
Aunt Hope said, "I hope you don’t catch it".
Georgina Hammicks debut novel fulfils the promise of her short stories. From
the small, cruel truths that mark the nastier aspects of growing up, to the
huge, devastating deceptions that inform so many families, The Arizona Game
charts the trajectory of Hannah’s life. Hannah’s family is already
dislocated, her mother unhinged by her little brother’s death in a car
accident, her father abandoning them both to live in Australia. She is
brought up by her Aunt Hope, and Hope’s much older husband, ex-navy man Ber,
Hannah’s early life is punctuated by reluctant trips to her mother in a
psychiatric hospital, and the visits of the glamorous Jocelyn, Hope’s
actress friend who "brings laughter, olive oil and garlic into a strictly
lettuce and salad cream regime". What Hammicks achieves so beautifully is to
present the seeming unchangeableness of a child’s life so convincingly that
when change occurs, we are as surprised and shocked as Hannah herself. On
the day that Hannah is beaten up by the ‘fat boys’ at the swimming pool,
Uncle Ber dies. And so they move to Arizona. Not the state in America, but
a run-down house near a small post-war town. Here Jocelyn and Aunt Hope
totter into alcoholism, or so Hannah thinks. When she becomes pregnant with
Finch, she leaves only to return after three years. Finch is fat. And
clever, much cleverer than Hannah. It is left to Diarmid, Hannah’s lover to
negotiate the distance between Hannah and her son, and Hannah and Aunt Hope
The Arizona game itself is a board game constructed by Hannah,
then taken over by Jocelyn, where it becomes almost impossible to finish.
Hannah’s transition from childhood to adulthood is ultimately disappointing.
She does not mature, has little empathy with others. It feels very much as
if all the wonderful prose encountered in the first half of the novel is
only loosely attached to Hannah as a character, although this thought only
occurs as Hannah the adult fails yet again to respond to her life with the
same feistyness of the child. Less a loss of character, than authorial
wobbles. But apart from this small point, and it is a very small point, the
fizzing energy of the prose, the clarity of detail in the evocation of
Hannah’s life and really good psychological insights into character and
place, all combine to make a fabulous excursion into Georgina Hammick’s
impressive new world.
Reviewed by Sara Rance