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BOOK REVIEW: The Bus On Thursday by Shirley Barrett

| 1 October 2018 | Reply

BOOK REVIEW: The Bus On Thursday by Shirley Barrett

Allen & Unwin
September 2018
Paperback, $29.99
Reviewed by Steph O’Connell

Fiction / Magical Realism



That’s when I literally had thoughts of becoming a nun, because I thought, Well, I’m never going to have sex again. If I become a nun, I would at least have somewhere to live.

It wasn’t just the bad break-up that caused Eleanor’s life to unravel. It was the cancer. And the demons that came with it.

Freshly single and thoroughly traumatised from the ordeals of breast cancer, Eleanor Mellett starts a new job as a teacher in a remote mountain hamlet. It’s certainly peaceful enough, almost too peaceful. But what’s become of the previous teacher, the saintly Miss Barker, who has disappeared abruptly under mysterious circumstances? And what’s with all those locks on the door? And what the hell is that bus doing idling outside her house late, late at night?

Bridget Jones meets The Exorcist in Twin Peaks. Darkly funny, deeply unsettling and surprisingly poignant, Shirley Barrett’s The Bus on Thursday is a strange and wild ride for all fans of Helen Fielding, Maria Semple, David Lynch and Stephen King.



Eleanor is a highly unlikable character who blames everything that goes wrong in her life on someone else, holds her breath until she passes out or makes other dramatic threats when in an argument, and is prone to violent and profane outbursts.

Okay, so I admit I have always been one for dramatic attention-seeking behaviour in a crisis. Ever since I was a kid. If I got in trouble or anything, I would hold my breath—and I am extremely good at holding my breath, I can actually do it till I pass out. It used to scare my parents half to death. Also, it used to drive Josh mad.

She’s also been dealing with cancer, had a mastectomy, is on a course of tablets she is meant to take for the next five years that seem to be giving her the most unusual dreams, and she’s constantly worried the cancer has metastasised.

The worst thing – the thing that scares me most about this voice that jumps out whenever I attempt to blog anything about this experience – is that this smart-arse funny-angry shit is exactly how everyone’s breast cancer blogs start. Before it starts getting worse and the news is bad and the latest scan shows a lesion on the liver and the posts get fewer and fewer till finally some friend or husband or mother gets on and lets us know that Amy or Genevieve or Susie finally lost her brave battle, passed away quietly, another star in the night sky. But they all start off with the funny-angry voice, and it’s exactly what mine sounds like right now, and that scares the shit out of me.

And… she’s a primary school teacher, brought in to replace the much-beloved teacher who vanished without warning.
She doesn’t particularly like kids.

At lunchtime, I try to go online on the school computer to find out what the Education Department protocols are when an orphaned student who should be in high school goes at his teacher with a disembodied chicken head.

Eleanor is unlikable, but she’s also been dealt a rough hand, and while sometimes she says the most infuriating things, she also makes some very valid observations, is relatable in other ways.

Am I living life to the fullest? Possibly not; possibly too much time spent staring at photos of celebrities without makeup. This is the whole problem with having cancer: everyone expects you to have mysteriously acquired some kind of wisdom out of the experience, and if you haven’t, then it’s a personal failing.

Despite the unlikable bits, Eleanor’s morbid sense of humour just keeps you turning those pages. 

I need to dig myself out of this abyss.
Because I’ve been here before and it’s bad. In my experience, you have to treat it exactly the same way James Franco did when that giant boulder fell on him when he was canyoning. You have to do what it takes to get out, even if it means drinking your own urine and sawing off your arm with a blunt pocket knife.


The Bus On Thursday is a bizarre ride, and the little bits of Bridget Jones’s Diary and The Exorcist that were hinted at in the blurb are definitely there, as well as the Twin Peaks setting.

Honestly, there’s not a whole lot I can say about this book without spoiling things, but it is engaging, despite the rather unflattering main character, has a few inappropriate laugh out loud moments, and is an incredibly quick read. 

You won’t come out of this book feeling like it has wrapped everything up and answered all your questions (in fact, you’ll probably come out of it with more questions than when you started) but it is one heck of a ride and would be a great book for book clubs and the like… because you kinda need to discuss it with someone else who’s read it, immediately after you finish it.




Category: Book Reviews

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