My rating: 8.5/10. Unpretentious and good-humoured, without stooping to farce. Jack can, as needed, poke a bit of fun at himself, but he keeps his self-respect and extends that regard to others.
This is a book without a Great Big Purpose, which is too often rare in a travel book, into which category this work mainly falls. Over 40 is a rather elegantly presented account of two writers on the loose in Australia. One, Australian novelist Roger McDonald, is researching his next book, a non-fiction account of the politics and conflicts between New Zealand and Australian sheep shearers working the vast outback flocks, and the other is our own British Columbian Jack, tagging along with his friends and colleague for the four-week trip.
Jack finds himself taking notes throughout the journey, and ends by writing his own account of the fascinating people and unique places the two encounter. Quirky, often humorous, fair-minded and very readable. I enjoyed this travel memoir.
Jack Hodgins is well-known in B.C. literary circles for his fiction, from his now-iconic short story collection Spit Delaney’s Island in 1976 to his most recent novel, The Master of Happy Endings in 2010. Over 40 in Broken Hill was something of a departure from the fictional norm of this author, but it worked for me.
I’ve read a number of this author’s works over the years, and think very highly of his distinctive style. (He reminds me a bit of Robertson Davies, but without the aura of intellectual snobbery that Davies sometimes projects.) I am not alone in this regard, as Jack Hodgins was awarded an Order of Canada in 2010 for his lifetime contribution to Canadian literature. An author well worth exploring, if you are not already familiar with him.
Side note: The “40” referred to in the title has a double meaning. Think age, and then think degrees Celsius. There is a chapter midway through the book that clarifies the reference most engagingly.