It’s Sunday March 31st 1985 and Nicky Starling is thrilled because it’s his 8th birthday. In his family, birthdays are a big deal and he’s looking forward to all the presents and attention. But Nicky is bitterly disappointed because everyone seems to have forgotten and not in the usual joking way. Unfortunately Nicky’s birthday has been overshadowed by the death of his grandmother, Didie, someone of whom he was never very fond as she didn’t show him much affection. And to top things off Hawthorn lost their very first match of the season, much to his father’s disappointment. As his father is a staunch Hawthorn supporter this a very big deal. Alas, Nicky’s birthday marks the start of his family’s unraveling.
The Starlings is set over the course of the 1985 AFL football season. Each week Nicky’s dad dissects each game and looks forward to the following game. Nicky doesn’t enjoy football like his father but he tries to make an effort and feign interest. Actually, Nicky would rather be in his room enacting Shakespearean and Arthurian Legend plays using his Heroes of the Cosmos figurines or dolls as his dad would call them. Nicky also likes spending time doing jigsaw puzzles with his grandpa and Didie’s carer, Rose. His fifteen year old sister Pippa doesn’t seem to have much time for him unless she wants something from him. He loves his mum but lately she seems to be rather distant and distracted. There are alot of things going on in Nicky’s world, much of which he doesn’t understand.
Vivienne Kelly has authored an engaging book about the intricacies of family dynamics. She also cleverly connects the complexities of AFL football with the elaborate themes of Shakespeare. An enjoyable, recommended read.