‘Break of Day’ by Tony Palmer

For the second time within a week, I read a book that I ordinarily wouldn’t pick up – Break of Day by Tony Palmer.

It’s the story of brothers Murray and Will, and their family and friends. The story flashes backwards and forwards between the brothers’ youth in rural Australia and World War II. In particular, the story focuses on the 39th battalion’s fight against the Japanese on the Kokoda track in Papua New Guinea.

I can’t reveal too much about the plot without spoiling it but I can say that I found the ‘coincidences’ unlikely. It’s okay to have one or two things miraculously happen but when everything falls into place, I think it jeopardizes the integrity of the historical context of the story.

Palmer’s writing style is simple and straightforward. Had I started this book a few chapters in, I suspect I would have enjoyed his style more – as it was, Palmer’s overuse of particular language at the beginning of the book (that I suspect he felt gave the dialogue historical credibility) was grating. Seriously grating. How many times can you say ‘bugger’, ‘bloody’ and ‘bastards’ in one sentence? Lots.

“‘And bugger this bastard of a place,’ he says.”

“He’s buggered,’ said Frank. ‘He needs a rest.'”

“‘You gotta get up. There’s half the bloody Japanese army behind us. And anyway, Murray here, he reckons there’s a hotel in the next village… He says it’s as good as the bloody Windsor, mate, and I really don’t want that bastard Nick getting to it all first.”

For whatever reason, I was reminded of the television show, The Sullivans, when I started reading Break of Day. I really loved The Sullivans and remember watching it as a family when I was quite little. Once I had The Sullivans in my head, I couldn’t help but read Break of Day in a Dave-Sullivan-“Damn this war, Grace”-tone. I’ve indulged myself with this video clip (the opening credits were my cue to hurry into my pyjamas and take up my place on the couch!) –

Palmer has a few nice turns of phrase dotted throughout. For example –

“It was as if Will had pushed him down with his words.”

and

“‘Most of us never go to war,’ he said. ‘But a life-time’s bigger than any war. You spent years with your uncle, and if you know him from those times then no single story from his past will ever tell you anything new.'”

But overall, the plot lacks the depth and guts needed to make this story a convincing exploration of love, war, duty and courage.

There’s only one thing to accompany Break of DayAnzac biscuits of course (although I’m still yet to find the ultimate Anzac recipe…)!

2/5 – if you really need a war story about brothers and mateship, look up My Brother Jack by George Johnston.

break of day by tony palmer book review

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