BOOK CLUB: No Church in the Wild

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In “No Church in the Wild” Murray Middleton has written an extraordinarily depressing novel. However, it’s also a novel that will challenge you to re-examine your own attitudes, preconceptions, and prejudices.

It’s well worth reading.

This is not a book to read for enjoyment, exactly, it’s challenging and thought-provoking, the kind of novel that demands something of you. You’ll be thinking about it for a while after finishing it, and you’ll be pleased that you’ve read it.

This is a contemporary read, set in inner Melbourne. It follows four different characters, all of whom interact, largely around the public high school which serves the area.

Anna is a teacher – a good one. She’s dedicated, she cares about her students, and she’s disturbed by the way the school and the education system more broadly are failing them. But both the weight of bureaucracy and her students’ indifference work against her efforts at change.

Ali and Tyler are two of her students. Ali dreams of being a famous (and rich) rapper but is caught up in the struggle to survive in a depressed area with a substantial refugee population – like Ali himself.

His classmate Tyler has perhaps a more realistic goal – to join the army – but is being pulled down by the drug abuse of the adults around him. He can see his dreams slowly disintegrating, and anger is taking the place of both despair and hope.

And then there’s Paul, a cop relatively new to the area. He’s supposed to be leading a group of students and teachers on a trek of the Kokoda Trail, in part to rebuild relationships between the police and the community. Paul’s not a great choice, though. He’s full of his own prejudices, blind to other’s perspectives, and utterly unable to hear what others are saying to him.

Not all of these characters are particularly likeable, but they’re all pretty realistic. We’ve all met or seen people like them. Middleton draws these people strongly and through them their community. Neither Paul nor Anna are particularly well off, and both have their problems. Still, we see that they are relatively privileged compared to the students.

It is in the depiction of the students that the novel really shines. Initially, they present as absolute horrors. They’re disruptive in class, they’re rude, their honesty is flexible, and they carry their own prejudices. As Middleton draws more of their world, and those around them, we develop an understanding of the influences that have made them this way. It’s vivid, believable – and incredibly depressing. It engages our sympathies for these young people.

The plot is slight, with Middleton essentially just wandering through the days with these people as they train for the Kokoda Trail. There’s a power in that, though, letting us see the good and bad in their lives in a very gradual way.

As I have said a couple of times, I found this novel very sad. It doesn’t feel as if it offers much hope for any of the characters. However, it does offer a lot of understanding and may provoke readers to consider their own attitudes to, and understanding of, refugee teenagers. In that perhaps there’s some long-term hope for all of us.

A selection of our Beauty and Lace Club Members are reading No Church in the Wild by Murray MiddletonYou can read their comments below, or add your own review.

2 thoughts on “BOOK CLUB: No Church in the Wild

  1. This is a hard book to read, mainly because there doesn’t seem to be much hope for some of the characters. Most of the action revolves around the police, and an inner city public school in Melbourne with many students coming from low income or refugee families.

    Anna is one of the teachers at the school, and she manages to keep her optimism up as she teaches. She cares for her students, even when they give her serious grief – and some of them truly do. Still, Anna seems to pick herself up, dust herself off, and plough on. But that optimism is getting a bit dented with all the challenges over this year.

    The students don’t have the luxury of caring much, and don’t seem to be much cared for either. Their backgrounds are unbelievably tough, especially the refugees who have huge past traumas. But so, also, are the students living in poverty, and/or with other problems like drug-addled adults in their lives. For all of these young adults, the problem can boil down to simply surviving. Whether they actually want to learn or not becomes immaterial when survival is paramount.

    The police have an uneasy relationship with the community. A case is ongoing which may or may not prove the police guilty of racism and potentially murder. It’s pretty much destroyed any trust these kids might have with authority.

    Into this mix comes a PR exercise for a select few to train to walk the Kokoda Trail, and thus re-establish some trust. Whether it will or won’t becomes almost a moot point, however, as uneasiness prevails.

    Hard to read, hard to enjoy, but I guess that’s the whole point of the novel. The title comes from a Kanye West song which renounces organised religion. Again, part of the message, not so much from the religious side of things, but more renouncing the ‘organised’ side of things. Interesting to read but overall not a favourite with me.

    Thankyou to Beauty & Lace and Pan Macmillan Australia for the review copy.

  2. YA novel No Church in the Wild by author Murray Middleton for me was difficult to follow with the various characters but was still an unforgettable read for me. So many characters diverse “stories” were interspersed with young and idealistic teacher Anna’s story. The characters live in high rises, their high school classrooms are what I can only describe as a melting pot and the trail of Kokoda’s jungle. New to the police force Paul sees the need for relations with the youth and realises it won’t be a quick fix solution that can be offered to these youngsters. Youngster (and classmate) Tyler comes from a broken home, I felt his anger that was directed at his life and the world that seems hell bent on denying his dreams of fame as a world-famous rapper. Life in Melbourne’s inner west area where many are of low income and/or of a former refugee status. It’s a so very raw and very honest portrayal. A recurrent theme throughout this read is the still very real prejudices faced by various cultures/ethnicities in Australia today.
    Thank you to Beauty & Lace and Pan Macmillan Australia for the review copy.

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