Pirriwee Public is just a run of the mill school on the fictional Pirriwee Peninsula near Sydney, Australia. A cross section of the populace, their ups and downs, the inter-personal relationships laid bare and the exchanges between the parents brought to life. Dynamics at the ‘school gate’ are like a window onto the daily life of this otherwise reasonably affluent and engaged community. What could possibly go wrong?
The book starts out 6 months before the “Trivia Night” scheduled to take place at the school later in the year, to be attended by parents and staff to raise funds. This is the event on which the book hinges… And the countdown continues as the characters parade before us, parents, teachers, and the children. At the end of many of the chapters there are the comments and reflections from various individuals – and statements from the police protocol – about individual perceptions of how that particular evening actually panned out. Perception and fact are often polarised, interpretations of events and motive can be creative, judgement skewed. Prejudice can be injurious and doing nothing can in itself have dire consequences….
A swathe of people flurry across the pages at the beginning and it can at first be difficult to differentiate the real players. They are like a Greek Chorus observing a stage play, as life unfolds under the scrutiny of the reader. Yet it soon becomes clear who the characters are to follow and how they gradually build up relationships.
Bullying at the school gradually becomes a hot topic and sides are taken. One child is being bullied by another and the author perceptively renders the different perspectives, the herd instinct seems to be to victimise and address the situation. In parallel there is also a very informed depiction of the abusive behaviour within an adult intimate relationship and how the insidious nature of such a dynamic gradually can unfold. The Jekyll and Hide character of the abuser is very realistically depicted.
The apotheosis comes with everyone turning up for the much hyped Trivia Night which starts off with consumption of heady alcoholic drinks, but no food to absorb the alcohol, as the caterer is late arriving. It is a true cocktail for disaster. Without giving anything away, it all goes downhill from there.