Review - Comfort Zone, Lindsay Tanner

Review Written By
Karen Chisholm

COMFORT ZONE is the debut novel from Ex Federal Minister for Finance and long-time Labor true believer Lindsay Tanner. Given his background it's not surprising that he's turned his hand to crime writing with an emphasis on societal ills.

In COMFORT ZONE his area of special interest is racism. The sort of casual, life-long racism that seems to come from somewhere very lazy / convenient for many. In this case it's middle-aged, sad, pathetic cabbie Jack who embodies that casual rejection of anybody different based on a few simple truths as he sees them. The message is further hammered home because Jack is such a pathetic creature. Single, living in a shitty run down flat, working as a cabbie because that's what he seems to be prepared (in his mind) to "settle for". He drinks in a bit of a rundown old pub with a few less than stellar mates and distracts himself with porn. 

Until the day that his passenger leaps to the aid of a young Somali kid being beaten up, and Jack is sort of dragged along behind. Straight into the orbit of a beautiful Somalian single mum and love.

Needless to say Jack's life is destined to take mysterious turns - what with love and a book filled with Somalian writing leading to drug dealers, ASIO agents, a lot of dashing about in the inner Melbourne traffic and volunteering at a Somali Refugee Assistance Centre.

All of which might work as a bit of a caper novel except for a few glaring issues. The characters, as already indicated, come straight from Stereotypical Casting. The plot is less of an advancement of a scenario than it is a progression of minor scuffles signifying a lot of movement but not much actual action, threat or tension. Then there's the central theme - of racism being bad - an obvious and worthwhile undertaking. Although this particular racist is such a caricature, and frankly, if all it takes to solve the world's intolerance problems is a hefty dose of lust, then you can't help thinking we're heading into bigger problem territory.

Add to that some truly clunky dialogue and the sense of realism that you'd expect from high farce, but without the comedic element or even the bite, COMFORT ZONE somehow feels too floppy. Well-intentioned undoubtedly, but desperately dull in the execution.

Year of Publication

An astute novel about Australian racism — and about humanity prevailing over entrenched prejudice.

Jack Van Duyn is stuck in his comfort zone. A pot-bellied, round-shouldered cabbie in his mid-fifties, Jack lives alone, has few friends, and gets very little out of life. He has a negative opinion of most other people — especially refugees, bankers, politicians, and welfare bludgers.

Jack doesn’t know it, but his life is about to be turned upside down. A minor altercation in a kids’ playground at an inner-city high-rise estate catapults Jack into a whirlpool of drug-dealing, ASIO intrigue, international piracy, and criminal violence. And he can’t escape, because he doesn’t want to: he’s fallen in love with the beautiful Somali single mum who’s at the centre of it all.

The ensuing turmoil propels Jack out of his comfort zone, forcing him to confront some unpleasant truths about himself. After decades in the doldrums, can he rise to the challenge when the heat’s on?

Drawing on his many years of experience as a politician at the centre of bitter debates about refugees and multiculturalism, Lindsay Tanner explores the emotional landscape on which these issues are played out. As we follow Jack’s hair-raising journey from crisis to crisis, a powerful plea for tolerance and understanding unfolds — directed at both sides of Australia’s great cultural divide.

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Karen Chisholm
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