Careful, He Might Hear You – Sumner Locke Elliott

Suzie Eisfelder

This book was first published in 1963. I remember hearing about it when the movie of the book came out in 1983. The trailer I recall seeing had a tragic boat accident, and I didn’t want to see a sad movie so I never saw it. Didn’t read the book either, it’s only one of those classics one must read…. Instead I studied it as part of Australian Literature recently.

What’s it about?

It’s about a young boy whose aunts are battling for his custody.

What’s Australian about it?

The author was born in Australia but spent most of his adult life in the States. He even wrote the book while there.

The book was set in Sydney. If you know the city well you’ll be spot all the places mentioned. You’ll also be able to spot the class divide much better than me, I’m a Melbourne girl. Some of the action is set in the lower class suburbs while other parts are set in the upper class suburbs. This is delineated by the way the characters cross from one part to the other using the ferry. Vanessa, the rich aunt, once takes a taxi instead of the ferry and we see that this is extremely expensive.

Other interesting stuff

It’s set in the Great Depression. Like My Brother Jack, this gives a really good description of what it must be like to have lived during those days.

The big difference between the two books is the viewpoint. In My Brother Jack, David gets a job as a journalist virtually straight from school and never has financial worries. He helps his parents a lot and we see the problems of the Depression looking at his brother who travels the country looking for whatever work is available.

In Careful, He Might Hear You, George loses his job and eventually gets another one, but there are all sorts of financial problems that we see. We’re looking through the eyes of a six year-old boy who overhears some discussions but not others. He does notice things disappear from the house and mostly we’re meant to make the connection between that and Lila and George trying to make ends meet by selling stuff.

There is some autobiographical content. Sumner Locke Elliot’s mother, Helena Locke Elliot, died a day after his birth. Like the boy’s mother in the book, Helena was a writer. Locke Elliot was then brought up by an aunt.

Should you read it?

I do feel it’s one of those books that should be included in your reading if you’re trying to educate yourself on what it is to be Australian. Or if you’re wanting to read more Australian books. In light of that here’s an affiliate link so you can buy this particular edition and give me a few cents in affiliate fees. A little more and I’ll be able to afford a cup of coffee.

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