Book Review – Whisky Charlie Foxtrot by Annabel Smith

I loved everything about this novel. From its contents page that starts at ‘alpha’ and finishes at ‘zulu’, from its brief first chapter that introduces the reader to its title characters, Whisky and Charlie, and then informs us that one of those characters is in a coma, to its final page of acknowledgements where the author thanks her fellow writers and her family.

This is Perth based writer Annabel Smith’s second novel and the first that I’ve read. I am usually an idiosyncratic and dyslexic reader, hopping around in a book, reading pages out of sequence and often reading three books simultaneously. I couldn’t do that with Whisky Charlie Foxtrot. I had to read it chapter by controlled chapter, wondering what delights lay ahead in chapters titled ‘yankee’ and ‘quebec’ and trusting that the author would provide that delight.

The episodic nature of the story did not worry me because I cared as much for the bumbling and frustrating Charlie as I did for his alpha twin Whisky and desperately wanted him to wake up from his coma and needle Charlie again. ‘William was put out that his name wasn’t part of the phonetic alphabet. To compensate he started calling himself Whisky. Their father, who they had always called Dad, became Papa (p 23).’

Charlie’s relationship with his comatose brother isn’t his only problem. His beautiful girlfriend Juliet is about to walk out on him and even his best friend Marco thinks Charlie needs to mend his ways. But Charlie is so hard done by, having lived in the shadow of his successful, popular older brother all his life, that surely there’s nothing he can do to change the inevitable. Or can he? His father reminds him that he hasn’t exactly ‘been the world’s best brother,’ prompting Charlie to swear, then contemplate, very slowly, the nature of his relationships.

The women are also beautifully drawn. There’s Charlie’s Aunt Audrey who starts everything by giving walkie talkies to the twins before moving to Australia. There’s his mother Elaine whose past comes to haunt her in the chapter titled ‘mike.’ There’s also Rosa, Whisky’s wife, and Juliet, who knows both brothers intimately. And I loved the brief sketch of  Charlie’s first girlfriend, the flinty Kristy whose ways were ‘always better, neater and more efficient than any method Charlie might use. Kristy never said this explicitly but she made it clear by the way she scrutinised Charlie at certain tasks and then silently corrected his mistakes when he had finished (pp 79-80).’

This is an elegant and satisfying book and I recommend it highly.
This review counts towards my total for the 2013 Australian Women Writers Challenge.

Whisky Charlie Foxtrot by Annabel Smith.
Publisher: Fremantle Press.