Review: Two Little Boys by Duncan Sarkies

You’re 12 years old. A couple of months ago you met a person who did something special for you. Perhaps he saved you from a mean old bully; perhaps he helped you out with a tricky maths assignment. You’ve made a special bond with this person – not love or anything stupid like that, just a connection above normal. You swear to him to always be the best of friends. You make friendship bracelets out of shoelaces, you invent a secret handshake, you exchange blood, or you do any other kind of seal-the-best-friends-forever-deal-ritual you can think of.

Fast forward 20 years and if that mate is still around – maybe you even share a room – then you might be one of the people Duncan Sarkies based his Two Little Boys-characters, Deano and Nige, upon.

In this emotional road trip, based around the accident (or murder?) killing a backpacking Norwegian football international, Deano and Nige goes through their Dunedin lives in New Zealand in a rather amusing ‘your stupid – yeah, but you’re stupider’ kind of bubble.

Basically: Deano thinks Nige is an idiot. Nige thinks Deano is a selfish prick. Deano hands Nige his sloppy girlfriend seconds because he’s certain Nige can’t pull a chick of his own. Nige is mad because Deano stole the entire B-section of Nige’s ex’s – and so also Deano’s ex’s – CD collection.

When Sarkies, the Kiwi writer behind motion picture Scarfies and two episodes of Flight of the Concords, brings Gav, a light hearted, live-and-love Samoan into the mix, an element of darkness takes the book from children’s playtime to as near a thriller you can get without calling it one.

Along with a bunch of toasted sandwiches and marijuana joints, Gav gives Nige the revelation that there’s more to life than rounding up enough change for a pint. Gav gives Deano the revelation of a much more murky kind.

New Zealand is usually quite an unexplored area in modern literature, but Sarkies has a way of making use of quirky stereotypes and a healthy awareness of his own culture. He doesn’t seem to mind giving the reader a twisted impression of the nation he calls home.

There’s a saying that states: “Writers write to find out what they think.” Two Little Boys, though, gives the impression that Sarkies isn’t bothered at all about what he thinks. As much as a reader’s book this is, it doesn’t seem to be written with another agenda than to entertain Sarkies himself and, if lucky, a few more people.

Perhaps it’s that laid back, ‘I’d rather just sit back on my veranda, have a toastie and look out over herds of sheep and all of the Lord of the Rings extras’-state of mind that makes it work so well. A sense of effortlessness that makes it feel natural and real.

That combined with a sense of humour and the ability to grab the whole arm of a reader just offering a hand, makes this thriller that’s not a thriller an impressive rarity among bookshelves full of work that’s trying too hard.

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