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Sydney Bridge Upside Down

3.82  ·  Rating details ·  239 ratings  ·  40 reviews
Harry Baird lives with his mother, father and younger brother Cal in Calliope Bay, at the edge of the world. Summer has come, and those who can have left the bay for the allure of the far away city. Among them is Harry's mother, who has left behind a case of homemade ginger beer and a vague promise of return.

Harry and Cal are too busy enjoying their holidays, p
Paperback, 223 pages
Published 1981 by Paul Longman (first published 1968)
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Average rating 3.82  · 
Rating details
 ·  239 ratings  ·  40 reviews

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Sep 21, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: new-zealand
This unsettling book is referred to as The great unread NZ novel. It is also labeled as a gothic anti-romance, a ruined pastoral thriller AND the pre-eminent example of slaughterhouse fiction that’s quite a lot to be going on with.
First published in 1968 it seems to have long fallen by the wayside and I had never heard of it until a copy began circulation in my local book club.
I have mixed feelings on this book and it does feel dated in style. But if you enjoy unreliable child narrators and odd hor

Harry Baird and his younger brother Cal were let run wild through the summer holidays. Their dad would be at work; their mum had gone away to the city for a few weeks. So Harry and his mates had free reign – their little town of Calliope Bay had caves and cliffs, the wharf and the killing rooms of the old works – a veritable playground for young boys looking at creating mischief. And create it they did; especially Harry!

Sam Phelps, scarred and silent, owns Sydney Bridge Upsi2.5s ...more
Text Publishing
‘What begins as the story of an ordinary country boy quickly turns strange and unpredictable indeed…Funny, inventively written, and more than slightly odd, Sydney Bridge Upside Down makes a long-awaited and welcome return.’
Sonya Hartnett

‘It holds in heartbreaking tension that point between innocence and experience, sanity and disarray that we recognize in works as disparate as Iain Banks’s The Wasp Factory and Hal Porter’s The Watcher on the Cast-Iron Balcony, in which the private catechisms of childhood and ad/>‘It/>Sonya
Mar 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The characters here are very believable, even the incredible ones, and the transactions that the children have with the adults (and young adults) around them ring very true. Some of the shenanigans that the kids get up to with each other seem a little far-fetched, and the girl cousin could probably do with some counselling, but without that sort of thing it wouldn't be a story would it? It'd be... just people doing stuff.

I tend to see gothic themes everywhere, but I'm still pretty sure that thi
Stephanie Reid
Jan 01, 2016 rated it really liked it
Strange, disturbing cross between NZ Gothic and a depression era coming of age story which unfolds over one summer. The narrator is Harry-of unknown age but probably about 12-14-somewhere between child and adult-and his dreamy, unreliable, fairy tale telling of events is both sinister and innocent (remember those high sweet children's voices that sing nursery rhymes in the background of horror movies? This is the literary equivalent). Dark, unhinged, sad and evocative, it conjured up the kind o ...more
Michael Brown
Jan 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Essentially the unpredictable monologue of an adolescent boy in a remote NZ town, half understanding the dodgy adult goings-on around him, this is often funny in a ghastly black comic way. The narrative is very cunning as the story grows progressively more sinister. Ballantyne neatly avoids the pitfalls of over-psychologising the main character, conveying the mysterious perceptions of a youthful troubled mind a certain insight. Imagine 'The God Boy' rewritten by Ronald Hugh Morrison. Or a decide ...more
Samantha-Ellen Bound
Feb 07, 2011 rated it really liked it
Just gorgeous – atmospheric, gothic, nostalgic, disturbing, enthralling, well-written. It has a creeping, seeping feel to it. Well deserving of a re-release.

Full review at:
Rachel Gale
Oct 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Natalie Cowie
Dec 18, 2010 rated it really liked it
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Alan Wightman
Aug 12, 2012 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Alan by: Hamish Clayton
Harry Baird lives in Calliope Bay, five houses and a shack, and the ruins of the old meat works. As Harry and his young mates play in the cave, on the wharf and in the works, scar faced old man Sam Phelps looks on, impassive, opinion unknown except perhaps to his perennial companion Sydney Bridge Upside Down, the horse. Harry's mother has gone to the city for an undetermined period, and Harry's beautiful older cousin Catherine arrives in the bay. Harry is young and confused and sees Catherine as ...more
Pip Smith
Dec 12, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nz-literature
One of those books expertly written from the perspective of a likeable, horrible character. There are some fantastically fluid dream sequences in this book, but other moments where the writing seems rushed (particularly at the end). Some things I loved about the book: the use of the abandoned meatworks to give the setting & psychology of the protagonist a sense that they are both crumbling, dangerous, but fun places to get lost in; the way cousin Caroline's hormones seem to sweat all over th ...more
May 22, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: owned-as-ebook
An Adelaide (Australia) radio announcer was "raving" about this book, otherwise I'd never have heard of it. It's a rather strange story about the events of a summer in an isolated town in New Zealand. It's told from the perspective of a pre-adolescent boy, whose dysfunction is central to the story. The characters were weird, mysterious and menacing, with a constant undercurrent of deviance and dysfunction. The narrative is gripping and engaging, but it's far from an uplifting read. It's said to ...more
Oct 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I so wish I had a little more background on this book before I tackled it in my series of NZ writers. I wish I was looking for the dark clues and undertones before they emerged. It can be read I imagine on many levels. I will be going back and re-reading it in the next few months for sure. The main characters are so layered and real to life, the lesser ones summed up in a few sentences. You can't help but have strong opinions of these people that may change through the book just as in life.

Caffeinated Weka
I really struggled with this book. I put it down several times and almost gave up completely until some drama was hinted at around page 90, then it was back to droll again until past the halfway mark. The plot is stilted with huge, unexplained events that barely raise an eyebrow in the small rural setting. The timeline of events jumps around and the narrative just rambles at times. (Chapter 13 is one long paragraph and still fails to build the desired tension.) I don't understand why this novel ...more
Apr 30, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: new-zealand
Wow, what a stunner of a book, first written in 1968 and quite rightly noted as a New Zealand classic. Made me wonder if filmmaker Vincent Ward had read it and weaved it's gothic, claustrophobic atmosphere into his movies, especially 'Vigil'. It's a coming of age/end of the golden summer book set in smalltown New Zealand in the 50s/60s and delivers a huge twist that I honestly didn't see coming at the end. Again, wow
Meagan Richardson
Jan 10, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Such a dark and thoughtful book. Doesn't attempt to answer the unanswerable nature of our youthfulness. A book that comprehensively explores the confusion, desperation and dysphoria of growing up. The use of the 'works' in this book was powerful. Amazing book and I can't believe it isn't more popular. I would rank it above Catcher in the Rye for coming of age stories. Leaves you with all the right questions and no clear answers- just like life.
Jun 16, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Absorbing - you don't really want to be interrupted after the first half of the book. I sat glued to it until I finished.
It's disturbing and unsettling. It reminds me somewhat of Ian McEwan's writing (The Cement Garden? Briony in Atonement?) The final albeit expected few lines of the book make you shudder.
Apr 01, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What a great discovery, another gem from my bds bookgroup. Disturbing, brooding, tragic. I couldn't put it down a) because I felt I needed to carefully concentrate on the characters and what was happening and b) because I was feeling too anxious about where it was all heading and needed to finish it asap! This feels like a classic nz novel, glad its been re-released into the world
Dec 18, 2013 rated it liked it
This is a book that should be re-read a couple of time to really get it. It seems quite short on detail sometimes, as if it's up to the reader to decipher. The protagonist is an extremely troubled young lad, with whom the reader alternates between sympathy and annoyance. A brooding, mysterious story.
Sep 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
Picked up by chance, and then realized it was a re release of a New Zealand classic with a foreword by Kate di Goldi.

The writing is dark and disturbing, and pulled me right in.

Harry Baird is a very interesting central character, and the events that swirl around him become more and more sinister. I found it hard to put down.
Apr 27, 2013 rated it really liked it
Wow, this NZ book has definitely sneaked under the radar - the introduction by Kate de Goldi said it all - a great read and re-read book which fits right in with our literature of unease. very similar to RH Morrieson and I love his books. So much sub-textual and so much recognisable.
Maureen Jansen
Feb 17, 2010 rated it really liked it
A reissue of a 1968 NZ coming of age novel. I can see why it went out of print: it's bleak and strange - Freudian. But it's very compelling when you get into it and is a devastating child's eye view of the adult world. The 'reveal' at the end is powerful.
Grace Harris
Jul 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A very interesting novel
Linda Foster
Sep 14, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This book was so very original. Enjoyed it immensely. it has social context, messages, but in an absorbable manner. Lots of humour.
Monique Engelen
Oct 11, 2017 rated it liked it
Dark and disturbed. I finished a book club book but would not have picked it up. Otherwise, well written - just content was a bit horrible for me.
Anney Ross
Jan 23, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: book-group
Looking forward to some discussion on this one!
Apr 29, 2015 rated it liked it
School text - connected with little boy and his feelings
Bit dismayed - did he really get rid of those people -
added out at end
Lots to disicuss for school text.
Helen Stanton
Jan 06, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Described as a forgotten masterpiece of NZ fiction, this is a dark coming of age tale.....with a twist. Catcher In The Rye with attitude.
Alex Bennetts
Feb 06, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Super great! Didn't go into this with any expectations. Wanted to keep on unfolding the story; so unsure of this faulted point of view, piecing the subtext as it went. More people should read it.
Apr 11, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction, new-zealand
Perfect book group book, so interesting and stylistically intriguing. Can't wait to talk about it.
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Aussie Readers: Sydney Bridge Upside Down, by David Ballantyne 15 56 Apr 29, 2013 04:22AM  

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