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Whose Goat Was That?

Mysterious Mysteries of the Aro Valley
by Danyl McLauchlan (Victoria University Press, $30)
Reviewed by Ruth Brassington

Mysteries_Aro_coverThe mysteries of the Aro Valley that I wanted anwers to were: Who distributed rustled sheep meat to the solo mothers in the area? Who fixed your car for a meal or a song behind a house in Aro Street? Where did all the wooden sheds disappear to on the properties with open fireplaces? Whose goat was it we passed around to eat the wild growth behind the houses? What were those funny plants here and there amongst the, um, weeds? Whose children were those anyway?
If I’d hoped for answers to these and other questions left over from the seventies when I lived there (didn’t everybody?) I was disappointed. I persevered with Danyl McLauchlan’s book and found even more unanswered questions. But I wasn’t disapponted.

McLauchlan’s latest Aro Valley adventure follws his Unspeakable Secrets of the Aro Valley, but you don’t need to have read the first to enjoy the second. Mysterious Mysteries is a sharp, satirical and sometimes downright scary romp through and around that valley in ways that made me question the realities of the places I thought I knew so well. I doubt you need to be familiar with the area’s convoluted meanderings to appreciate the story, with its dark tunnels, rickety dwellings, underground waterways, and dubious bookshops, archives and cafes, all peopled by a motley cast that wouldn’t be out of place on an early Shakepearean stage (think Bottom the Weaver).

I even came to accept the giants. And the cartographers.The badly behaved adults seemed like everyday people to me, just not very nice. But this, according to the main character, Danyl, who is off his mental wellness medication, is not a very nice place. Even if does hold the mystical secrets of the universe. Some of the adventures had by Danyl, Steve, Ann, Eleanor and Verity seemed familiar, then I read that the author gained his inspiration from ‘exhaustive research, painful introspection [and] old Enid Blyton novels’. (If the latter is true, Dog is the antithesis of The Famous Five’s Timmy.) McLauchlan also gives credit to his appetite for airport thrillers. More seriously, I thought of Jostein Gaarder’s Sophie’s World, probably because of the blue envelopes that keep popping up – and the philosophy and maths lessons.

Add to all this a Gorgon, a Lightbringer and a Rabelaisian orgy, and it must be a fun read. Is this The Hunger Games for grown-ups? The moral is obvious: watch out or it’ll be like this – if it’s not already. And not only in the Aro Valley.