The central theme of the novel is growing up. During his maturation, Rob becomes aware of some of the basic conditions of life. One, symbolized by the recurrent merry-go-round motif, is the relentless, irredeemable course of time. Rob notices its pervasive influence everywhere—even the town in which he lives is built on shifting sandhills.
Memory, the opponent of time, is another theme. The novel, which is semiautobiographical, contains detailed recollections of a childhood and a way of life in Australia, which Stow, like Rick Maplestead, left as a young man.
Eager to expand his horizons, Rob is intent on crossing boundaries, on venturing beyond the sunken ship offshore that he thinks is a merry-go-round in the sea, or into the open, unpopulated expanses of land north of his town. When Rick returns from captivity, and when refugees and immigrants arrive speaking exotic tongues, the war brings to Rob an awareness of ways of life richer than his own.
At age six, Rob Coram knows his name, that he lives in Geraldton, and that he is Australian. Yet he wonders why all these things are so. His identity is tied to his heritage. As a result of the war, members of several generations of the family appear in his life. They speak of Scottish and Irish forebears. One aunt remembers attacks by aborigines. Rob learns of a great-great-uncle who sailed in a twenty-six-foot whaler from Darwin, two thousand miles to the north. He also becomes aware...
(The entire section is 445 words.)