OK, sure, there’s some authenticity here with the childish (not in a pejorative sense) and Australian outlook, but there’s too much of the Robert Cormier assumption of overriding evil/perversion in just about everything/one. Odd that the persona and his mother maintain some innocence, but otherwise people are generally twisted &/or bastards. There’s a flicker of hope in some vaguely (and carefully clarified as non-institutionalised, boo, hiss) Christian leanings, but the novel descends into a hell-like plane. The whole thing is somewhat dreamlike. Perhaps Winton allows a little more leeway than Cormier: most seem unconsciously self and other destructive.
Perhaps a theme is that in the face of all the unjust suffering (as symbolised by the child’s good father going into a coma, and despite all hopes, never emerging) a belief in a loving God is untenable. It starts bleak, teases us with a little hope, and then takes us right down. Maybe that’s why the book’s respected - at least it’s not another crowd-pleasing happy ending, but it dares to present something more ‘realistic’, resolving nothing. Maybe it’s where Winton’s at, “I’d like to believe, but I can’t help but think belief is just fooling yourself.”
Problem being, of course, that where you start dictates your reality (which is probably meant to be one of the themes of the book - a quote at the start suggests so). You’ll see a saint as a fool automatically, when maybe they actually did really have something to offer. Cynicism can blind as much (or even more) than gullibility.