For the love of literature – Zigzag Street

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by Rita H. Azar on June 12, 2014


I am so happy to have today the beautiful Lara from This Charming Mum guest posting for the series “For the love of literature”.  Lara writes about arts and culture with a family focus.  She often reviews books and I have discovered many novels to read and put on my TBR list from her blog.  A few months ago, she accomplished a massive challenge, Bust a Move, to raise money for breast health.  It was very inspiring to read about her challenge.  Well done Lara!  Take a few minutes to check out her blog and read her posts about book reviews, brain food and best of Brisbane.  Today, Lara writes about Zigzag Street from Nick Earls, an award-winning novelist from Brisbane.


“I basically blew my university days in the pursuit of one girl.

It’s only now, half a dozen years later, that the idea strikes me with some clarity. Despite what people said at the time. Despite the fact that at every moment of those several years it must have been obvious to everyone but me. […]

I’m playing the album she gave me for my twenty-first. Sitting here on the bare boards of the verandah of this old house, studiously not renovating, listening to The Smiths’ The Queen Is Dead. Watching paint fail to apply itself to the verandah rails.”

Nick Earls, Zigzag Street, Transworld, First edition, 1996


Zigzag Street has been republished a few times and is currently offered by Random House. Their website suggests it is ‘The book that began it all for Nick Earls’. In many ways, it’s also the book that ‘began it all’ for me in terms of my passion for Australian literature and my career as an analyser of books (one way or another).

I came across it quite by accident as I mooched around Brisbane city one day, taking a slow and circuitous route from Central Station to a university lecture via a bookstore or two. I read it in a couple of hours, sitting in the park, holding back belly laughs as passing strangers wondered what I was up to. That alone is a reason to love this book – it did, and does, make people happy.

Zigzag Street is the story of Richard Derrington, a hapless Brisbane lawyer who’s unlucky in love. In fact, he’s unlucky in a whole lot of ways that come together into a sort of chick-lit-for-boys coming of age story that’s hilarious and heart-warming in all the right measures. Richard has moved into his late grandparents’ home – a classic ‘old Queenslander’ in need of renovation. As he slowly takes steps towards fixing up the house, he’s also fixing his own life, which has hit a major speed bump and left him suddenly single.

This was the first book I’d ever read that was set in a Brisbane that I knew; where the characters bought their coffee and takeaways in the same places that I bought my coffee and takeaways. I could relate to it on so many levels! It was released into a beautiful, blossoming era for the Brisbane literary scene and as a naïve young student I was the bookish equivalent of a groupie to all the inspirational creative writers appearing around me. I already loved books, and I had my favourite authors, but this book helped me love writers, and writers festivals, and writing itself, in a whole lot of new ways.

Zigzag Street is a deceptively simple text that rewards a little bit of analysis if you’re someone who’s interested in the writing process. The abstract I’ve chosen, which is from the first page, is a great example to aspiring writers of how to set up your story without explicit details.

“I basically blew my university days in the pursuit of one girl” – So, the lead character is a guy – but who’s the girl? What was so special about her? Will she be a key character in this book?

“It’s only now, half a dozen years later…” – So, the lead character has been out of uni for a few years, possibly an early career professional. He’s educated, but obviously he’s not wise. He has a good circle of friends, but he doesn’t always take their advice. And just the mention of The Queen Is Dead gives us both a likely era in which the story is set, and another piece to the puzzle of the lead character’s personality. Earls cleverly loads the reader up with information and expectations right from these first, seemingly innocuous sentences. I still go back to this as an example sometimes when I’m trying to edit my own writing.

Zigzag Street was Earls’ first novel (he’d published poetry and novellas beforehand) and he’s gone on to a long career writing humorous and thought-provoking adult novels and a wide range of clever stories for kids. He is still Brisbane-based, with works republished in several languages and film and play versions of his books doing the rounds. For me, this book remains a funny, insightful look at twenty-something romance and the general existential angst of the years between high school heartbreaks and ‘settling down’. I relate to it particularly strongly because Richard’s post-uni years were so closely in tune with my post-uni years, but I’d recommend it to anyone who enjoys a well-written, light-hearted yarn.

You can find Lara here:

Blog: This Charming Mum

Facebook: This Charming Mum

Twitter: @ThisCharmingMum


Thank you so much for guest posting for my series Lara.  I’m really keen to read Zigzag Street now.

If you would like to guest post for the series For the Love of Literature you can find all the info here and I would love to read and publish your post on my blog.

Which is the first book you read that gave you the love of words and literature?   

Au revoir!




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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

[email protected] June 17, 2014 at 11:41 am

Wow Lara writes book reviews very well!! This book has been added to my ‘MUST READ’ list. How can I have not heard of award winning novelist Nick Earls from Brisbane when I live in Brisbane??!! Thank you Lara and Rita for bringing him to my attention. This first book of his sounds like something I would enjoy reading. How interesting to read about those youthful years before settling down through the perspective of a male. I also can’t wait to read it and explore the books he wrote after.
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Rita Azar June 25, 2014 at 12:55 pm

I’m glad you discovered a new book to read Min! Lara writes amazing reviews. You should check out her blog. I have found many books to read from her site.
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Lizzy - Muddle-Headed Mamma June 23, 2014 at 12:34 am

Oh I like the idea of chick lit for boys! Those opening lines of the novel appeal to me too for the way he drops clues instead of giving all the information to the reader in black and white. He says so much there in so few words.
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Rita Azar June 25, 2014 at 12:57 pm

I agree Lizzy, the way this book starts really grabs the reader and you really feel you want to read more and know what will happen next.
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