The Origin of Me by Bernard Gallate | Review

Esther Hannan-Moon

I edged closer and saw the man was talking to a pale-yellow bird with peachy cheeks – […] Having second thoughts about the dragster, I turned to leave. Then he sang, ‘If I knew you were coming I’d have baked a cake, howdy-doo, howdy-doo, howdy-doo.’

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Bernard Gallate’s debut novel, The Origin of Me, may be fifteen-year- old Lincoln Locke’s coming-of-age story, but any adult can engage with what lies beneath its surface.

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Whenever I followed Lincoln into the classrooms of Sydney’s Crestfield Academy, the new school he’s made to attend after his parent’s messy separation, Gallate’s writing had me checking over my shoulder. The novel didn’t necessarily transport me back to my high school days, because Crestfield is not your typical school. It’s exclusive and made of money, with a grading system and surveillance that had me scrutinising Sydney’s class inequality. There is a universality to the way Gallate has created the atmosphere of the school — one that makes you feel like your actions are spotlighted (an experience that’s heightened in the novel by teenage insecurity).

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This discomfort and alertness to threat is only heightened by Lincoln’s particular peculiarity — ‘the nub’, a growth on Lincoln’s lower back that becomes more bulbous by the day. The fear of exposure oozes off the pages, quickening my heart. Will he be exposed and what are the consequences that will surely follow? The constant pressure placed by Gallate and Lincoln on the nub, makes me eager to learn exactly what it is and what it will become. The tension builds as the nub grows, problems arising when Lincoln tries to conceal it. This oddity, although seemingly out of place within a typical teenager’s life, becomes intrinsic to the plot and something on everyone ‘s mind: the reader’s, and Lincoln’s. Through this device, Gallate explores the theme of not just alienation, but acceptance. We don’t often like what we see in the mirror — common in adolescence. Gallate hasn’t added this predicament to his character for no reason; the need for Lincoln to accept the nub, and thus himself, draws the reader further in. The fear that Lincoln experiences over the nub drives him to make difficult decisions. Some I cheered for while others I wish he could undo. I found myself almost shaking the book at points – evidence of good writing, the kind that gets you frustrated at a fictional character. The novel encapsulates the struggles of acceptance, and I sympathised with Lincoln’s inner turmoil, yet laughed at the dry humour that lightened this quirky, slice of life text.

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The Origin of Me is a transformative novel, interweaving intertextuality. Within the pages of Gallate’s novel, he’s crafted another fictional text which Lincoln takes a shining to: My One Redeeming Affliction by Edwin Stroud. At first, it was a bit jarring to find myself reading two books. What made it captivating and seamless was how the fictional events in Edwin Stroud’s book began to bleed into Lincoln’s life. I found that Gallate had more in store for me than I first imagined. Finding ourselves and achieving self-love is one of the many avenues explored in the novel. Lessons in fiction can open us up and provide us with information about ourselves we never knew we needed, much like my friend Lincoln learnt. In these modern times the lesson that The Origin of Me presents is crucial to read. The ability to selectively portray ourselves online as ‘perfect’ can be detrimental to accepting ourselves as we truly are.

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Bernard Gallate has crafted a novel that holds many ideas, plot points, and a huge cast of characters together, which at times can be a bit confusing, (thankfully there’s a helpful ‘Cast of Characters’ list at the beginning). The dry writing style leaves every word exposed, within its pages. The wry commentary, paired with visually evocative imagery, was enough to make me laugh and my chests warm with anticipation for the next page. It certainly is a balancing act to keep everything afloat, but Gallate has traversed this tightrope and made it to the other side with aplomb. I hope to read many more novels like The Origin of Me in the future.