Jon Doust, Return Ticket, Fremantle Press, 2020
Paperback 264 pages, from $25 online
Kindle edition $15.34
Reviewed by Ted Witham
Return Ticket is the third and final instalment of Jon Doust’s trilogy of memoir/novels following the adventures of the hot-headed Jack Muir. It follows the acclaimed Boy on a Wire, where Muir pursues justice for a boy bullied at the boarding school Jack attended. To the Highlands charts Muir as a wild young bank johnnie in Papua New Guinea, his hot-headed and heavy drinking lifestyle a snap-back against the repressive hypocrisy of his school. At the end of To the Highlands, Jack Muir is a damaged drifter.
Return Ticket is set first in South Africa, where Muir encounters laid-back marijuana smokers and the vicious racism of the apartheid regime. In two kibbutzim in Israel, a failed love affair and arduous work begin the task of redeeming the man. Jack Muir’s sense of justice, first kindled by the bullying at his boarding school, is honed by the socialist and utopian vision of the kibbutz.
Muir returns to Western Australia, where he loses the moral compass of the kibbutz and drifts dangerously again. Eventually his mother, despairing of her alcoholic son, gives Jack the money for a return ticket to Israel. There in a different kibbutz, Jack eschews alcohol and drugs and meets a woman who loves him, damaged as he is.
Jack feels he is a grown-up man and returns to Western Australia to mend relationships with his family. His reconciliation with his father on a riverboat on the Blackwood River is a touching episode.
As with the former two books, it is hard to know in The Return Ticket where memoir ends and novel begins. While Jack Muir is fiction, Doust has mined his own life and experience to bring this trilogy to life. The broad outline of Jack Muir’s life has many parallels with Jon Doust’s own life, but the real life is skilfully crafted into a narrative that reveals an arc from damage to restoration.
I have a sliver of insight into the narrow path Doust is treading between memoir and fiction. I was in Jon’s year at boarding school, and I am honoured to continue to call him friend 60 years on.
The books are each self-contained and can be read as separate novels. However, reading the three books reveals the larger themes and triples the reading satisfaction.
The key theme of Return Ticket is that one person’s genuine love for another can draw that person out of the neediness of addiction into responsive love. It is a timely and timeless message.
The writing has about it clarity and beauty. Jon made much of his living since returning to Australia as a comedian. As you would expect, a dry Australian humour permeates the narrative and lightens the serious themes. Buy your Return Ticket to Jack Muir’s story; it is an entertaining and thought-provoking journey.