Here is an unusual and beautifully written Australian memoir destined to become a classic that captures the vulnerability and ardour of youth, and the fragility and strength of parental love.
It is 1965. Robert Hillman, a mere 16 years old, is planning an extraordinary adventure. Deserted by his mother, disliked by his stepmother, and puzzled by his father, Bobby needs comforting. His life in rural Victoria has offered no solace; his job at Melbourne’s Myer Emporium, selling ladies’ slippers, offers no prospects. So he does what any confused and lonely teenager would do: he escapes.
Boarding a ship bound for Ceylon, he begins his search for paradise, inspired by his father’s stories of a fabled island in the Indian Ocean. Bobby sets sail in a green suit, carrying a suitcase full of books and a typewriter. He has no money, no return ticket and, seemingly, no worries. He imagines the island he is heading for to be inhabited by beautiful, full-breasted women who will caress him while he writes prize-winning stories in the style of Chekhov.
What follows is an account — by turns heartbreakingly tender and side-splittingly funny — of an innocent abroad. Put ashore not in Ceylon but in Athens, Bobby barters his way to Istanbul, Tehran, and Kuwait, lurching from slums and brothels to an implausible job at a ritzy hotel in Shiraz. Finally, a long haul through the desert ends in a jail term on the Pakistan border where, ironically, he finds the affection and acceptance that have always been the true objects of his quest.
All the while, Hillman’s odyssey has been part of a larger family drama. Woven through his story is his father’s tale of struggle and sorrow. As the mature writer now realises, ‘I booked a ticket on a ship to install myself in a story my father had begun in his imagination.’
The Boy in the Green Suit is an unforgettable, bittersweet tale of the artist as a bewildered young man.
‘One of the many attractions of this book is the wry affection with which the older man is able to look back upon his younger self. This is a tribute to both the writer and, in a sense, to Hillman as a human being … The Boy in the Green Suit is an exquisitely painful book about one of the besetting conditions of modern life: restlessness … There's an old adage that you can change the scenery but not yourself. Hillman tells that story with poignancy and warmth.’