The judges had no problem awarding Best First Book to this accomplished verse novel. The text is a memoir/history with strong political commentary. The author is a musician who is crossing over into text. The text is accompanied by a music CD with tracks to be played as the reader moves through the novel, and the music itself is varied in scope and of production standard – just the kind of cross-over project that IP is looking for. Mature in vision and evocative emotionally, this is page-turning verse that should find a wide audience.
– IP Picks 2010 Judges' Report
A fresh representation of a lost teen who finds a sense of identity and belonging in a world of concrete, steel and broken relationships. Laidler's debut novel, The Taste of Apple, is a vivid and powerful verse-narrative that captures the raw emotions of two adolescents who are mired in a world of social injustice and experiences of paternal abandonment.
The novel explores hugely controversial issues within Australia: the plight of the East Timorese Asylum Seekers in the late 1990s and problem of social inequality. The narrative is a deeply personal and emotional adolescent experience. It is about finding hope, beauty and identity in a chaotic and unjust world.
Perhaps the most unique and unusual aspect of this bold new work is that the novel comes with an audio CD of songs and spoken word tracks. The 13 tracks on the CD correspond to key events in the narrative and listening to them undoubtedly enhances the emotional
and sensory experience of the novel and its poetic features. Recorded at Unmuzzled Studios, with the help of musician/composer Don Stewart, the audio shines in its quality and poignancy.
Laidler's versatility as an experienced and seasoned performance poet certainly comes through the recording. Yet the heart of this novel remains firmly located in its plot, language and characterisation on the page.
The novel centres around Pedro, the son of a white Australian father and Filipino mother, who is at first lost and angry, dislocated from an identity with his family and his country. He is the victim of racial bullying and suffers at school as a misfit and 'nerd'. Pedro discovers that his mother was a mail order bride; and at the age of twelve on Christmas Eve, his father leaves the family with merely the excuse of not being 'good enough'. As a result, his family moves into a Richmond high rise commission flat where life becomes tough. Pedro is embarrassed by his mother's obsession with Catholicism and the strange Filipino food that
deters visitors. Like many adolescents, Pedro fails to see past his own life's imperfections.
Before his father's sudden departure, Pedro's relationship with his father is tenuous.' Pedro's rage at his father abandoning the family on
Christmas day is powerful and raw. Although Pedro is emotionally wounded and traumatized, he slowly starts to find his sense of identity and belonging in the world. The novel is an important text for Australia, in particular, for Victoria.
– Emma Willis, freelance reviewer
There is more than one way to experience and enjoy The Taste of Apple.
James Laidler's debut verse novel is available as an eBook, paperback and audio CD. It is an ambitious and accomplished work and is the quality fruit of a lengthy creative process.
The audio CD was produced by musician Don Stewart at Unmuzzled Studios in Victoria, with most of the lyrics written by Laidler, and most of the music composed by Stewart. It contains thirteen very carefully selected tracks that capture and dramatise the essence of the story portrayed in the verse novel. It is possible to absorb the beat and spirit of the whole by choosing, first, to listen these tracks independent of the text. The audio tracks might be said to represent the core of the novel.
Track one is 'Breathe' and it is instantly engaging, beginning as it does with the sound of a beating heart lifted within seconds by a cleanly picked riff and accompanied by breathing, distant sirens and general street ambience, moving into a catchy bass line that introduces the spoken word delivery.
Words set the scene. The speaker balances on the rooftop edge of a high rise apartment building, 22 storeys above the street below. It feels like a ritual. A reconnection with life, through risk. Staring down at the river of headlights below, the stars above. The musical transitions reflect and complement the poetic expression perfectly.
The CD includes an eBook version of the novel with links to poems with audio. Read the words as you listen but I recommend listening to the complete audio CD in one sitting at some point.
The paperback is beautifully bound and substantial with its 319 pages. Read the eBook on your computer screen; take the paperback on the train with you, or to bed. It's not clear if the eBook is readable on a mobile device, so check with the publisher.
Pedro is the central character of The Taste of Apple. Born to a Filipino mother and a father who abandons the family, for a farm near Colac, on Christmas Day. Both the audio tracks and the text exude emotions – anger, love, joy, fear; the remnants of racial bullying; the lethargy of apartment life in a concrete jungle.
The Taste of Apple is more than domestic drama. It scrutinises questions of identity, the pain of abandonment, and the search for belonging, and follows Pedro's involvement with the East Timor Freedom Movement.
Underneath the apple skin
there is knowledge
and hidden deep within
the seeds of change. (p. 312)
– Deb Matthews-Zott
The Taste of Apple is about turning the soil of life's hard garden. With flair for character and setting, Laidler goes to the core of adolescence—that painful negotiation of class, culture and of the cracks that appear as family secrets. This is a polished vision, a story of heart told through a language rich for the senses. Accompanied by lush audio tracks, Laidler emerges as both a talented writer and spoken word artist. An impressive debut that is ripe for the picking.
– Nathan Curnow, Going Down Swinging
In an industry which, to a large extent, appears to be short-sightedly conservative, I take my hat off to those publishers who are willing to take risks. That's to say, to those publishing companies who develop strategies for investing in new voices and who develop innovative lists shaped more by editorial decisions than a bearish marketing department.
Having got that off my chest, I rediscovered Interactive Press recently, as a result of reading James Laidler‟s verse novel (with accompanying soundtrack) The Taste of Apple. Reading this novel and listening to the CD provided proof positive that – certainly among the independents – there are publishers who actively seek and nurture new and exciting literary talent. James Laidler's debut novel places him firmly in this bracket and highlights the success of IP‟s strategy.
The Taste of Apple tells the story of Pedro Jones and, while a Contents page of over 170 poems (across six chapters) might initially appear daunting, it should also be recognised that most of the poems are less than a page in length, which makes this a short novel. Regardless of this, James Laidler's poetry has an immediacy to it that made The Taste of Apple one of the quickest novels I've read in a long time, while the sharp focus that this form demands – each poem evoking the quality of a relationship, a state of mind, a particular environment – also served to advance the essential ingredients of the story in such a way that it became a page-turner.
We meet Pedro Jones in the prologue, aged 18, as he teeters on the edge of an apartment block roof, 22 storeys up, and we gather that all is not well in his world. His mum is "collapsed on our brown vinyl couch, eight floors below, next to her overflowing ashtray" and his dad is "living somewhere on a farm near Colac". The journey we accompany Pedro on involves finding out how he arrived at this point and what his next move will be. Amongst other things, it's a carefully observed story about growing up, adolescence, finding your place in the world and discovering who you have it in yourself to be. It's also, of course, about innocence and experience and the nature of truth. And then there‟s Pedro‟s involvement with the enigmatic Johnny Lazzaro and the East Timor Freedom movement... Okay, it's a layered text and it's about lots of things. This is part of its richness and what helps to make it a compelling read.
With Chapter 1 – Before the Fall – we're provided with insights into Pedro's life as a 10-year-old living in a Melbourne suburb, and are introduced to the strained relationship of his parents:
There's an unspoken agreement
between Mum and Dad
in my house –
Many of the poems are so visually evocative that I couldn‟t help but imagine The Taste of Apple as a gritty graphic novel.
it's been that way forever.
Dad's strict rules
about cleanliness and order,
and in return,
Mum's obsession with Filipino cooking
and all things Catholic.
In our house
the lines have been drawn
in the sand
ever since I can remember.
The truce has never been broken.
As if this verse novel isn't innovative enough in itself, The Taste of Apple is supported by a soundtrack – 13 poems and songs set to music by Don Stewart – and an enhanced multimedia ebook. This might not come as a surprise given James Laidler's commitment to performance poetry and his highly successful involvement in poetry slams, but again it's heartening to see a publisher challenge the conservative mainstream by championing such a production.
And it all comes together and works superbly. While there are many poems in this novel that could confidently stand alone in an anthology and that are worth spending longer with (independent of what's happening to Pedro Jones), the intent of a verse novel is that the poems create a unity in the telling of a bigger story – that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts – and this, ultimately, is the success of The Taste of Apple.
– Paul Burman, theviewfromhere