The Next Big Thing is the kind of laugh out loud book you need at the start of a year. The fictional town of Norman is all the more real in the summer heat and the immersion only deepens from there.
At the start of each chapter, there’s a short blurb about a “big thing” from around Australia – you become so familiar with each of them that someone could probably quiz you on them. And you’d probably accidentally list Norman as well.
Like all small Aussie towns, Norman is full of interesting people who deserve to have their stories told and Colley does just that, fleshing out numerous subplots and stories to develop the town further. By the end of the book, you’ll feel as if you have visited it yourself. Protagonist Norm’s quest to build a big thing is a romantic gesture disguised as an attempt to save the town, a kind of “two birds, one stone” approach. Don’t let the title fool you, this is more of a romance than a tale about the development of the big thing itself. If you want to know what the big thing that Norm and Ella try to build is, you’ll just have to read the book for yourself.
The novel delves into that familiar feeling from youth – desperation to leave the place in which you grew up, but the grip it holds on you is tight all the same.
At times, the lightness of the read may feel too light, with the stakes not high enough, or the rewards not big enough, but that’s the beauty of these kinds of down-to-earth reads. There’s an innate familiarity to it all.
It’s a holiday read for sure, a digestible novel about the real problems our regional towns are facing, and it sparks awareness about them, yet never really ignites the fire to try to save them.
The nostalgia interlaced in this book is both its blessing and curse; for those who have not visited a big thing (or view them negatively), there is a larger disconnect. Readers that have done so may see the low stakes and melancholy descriptions of the town more favourably. It’s a quintessential Australian novel. The whole kitschness of big things that this country adores (namely through generational nostalgia) is embraced, but the book never takes it all too seriously.
There’s heart, yes, but in the same way The Castle has heart. And, just like The Castle, you’ll probably find it on shelves of holiday beach rentals for years to come.
The Next Big Thing, James Colley
Publisher: Pantera Press
Publication date: 30 January 2024