A new novel by the author of A Bridge to
Wiseman's Cove, Bold, edgy, compassionate. Vivid
characters and dialogue. Moloney gets better all the
Agnes Nieuwenhuizen, Centre for Youth
Literature, State Library of Victoria
Xavier McLachlan is in his final year of school at St. Matthew's
College and all his energy is focused on becoming a
member of the First XV. Xavier has played Rugby since he
was seven year old and has always been in the
'A' team he may even have made the Firsts last year if
he hadn't broken his collar bone in the last of the
pre-season trials! However, the outside world intrudes on
even the most dedicated of players and Xave becomes
infatuated with a girl from the local high school: a most
unusual girl who wears baggy pants, an oversized blazer,
walks like a boy and has an attitude problem. Nuala McGee
has the face of an angel, and Xave is sure that under
those obscene clothes, the body of a goddess. He also
becomes friends with Alex, a boy new to his class, who
dropped out of school the year before to undergo treatment
for leukemia, and who is now repeating his final year.
From his straightforward life Xave plunges into
all sorts of complications and confusions: he hates the
methods introduced into training sessions by the new
coach, and the new coach has his doubts about Xave's
commitment to winning, Nuala is enticing but difficult to
understand, and there are nasty rumours about her. His
friends, with the exception of Alex, loathe her.
The kernel of the story is Xave's patient courting
of Nuala and the up and down nature of their relationship;
the turmoil surrounding his Rugby career and the terrible
event of Alex's death while playing touch football with
Xave and his friends.
The novel has numerous themes. It should be noted however
that the raising of various issues does not intrude
on the story line, rather unpins and gives it
substance. As Moira Robinson says in her review of Touch
Me (Magpies Vol, 15, No. 2), '
this is a strong story
which keeps one constantly on the edge of one's seat, a
story full of surprises right to the very end.'
Winning at all cost.
The coach, Mr Preston, and,
following his example and presumably his father's, Scott
Watson's acceptance that they do anything in order to win
the premiership. Scott even goes as far as to deliberately
foul and injure an opposing team member when it looks as
if St Matt's might lose a match. This attitude intrudes
into Scott's behaviour off the field. Annoyed at being
beaten in a play during a scratch game of touch football
by his girlfriend, he tackles her, sweeping her off her
feet and then drops her on the ground. The fact that, as
Kelly says, 'What the hell were you doing? You could have
killed me', is secondary to his inability to accept that
he can lose a game.
The end justifies the
Mr Preston uses the fact of Alex's death as a
rallying point for the team on the eve of their final
match. Xavier questions his right to do so. Previously in
trials and practice Mr Preston uses each boy's hunger to
be in the team to pit them against one other in a bestial
game of winner takes all.
throughout the novel is the way in which peer groups
function within the school situation. Jocks are at the top
of the heap, kept there by younger boys' adulation and an
ethic that admires sporting prowess over academic
and Nuala's relationship is one based on respect. Nuala
insists on equal billing (at times it looks as if she
wants top billing) and Xavier has enough of an independent
turn of mind to allow her, and their relationship, to
develop beyond the stereotypical girl-boy infatuation
based on sexual desire. Not that Xavier doesn't want a
sexual relationship, but his delight in Nuala's
intelligence and hers in his is the basis of their
Betrayal of trust.
Nuala is betrayed
by Gavin, the boy she became involved with when she first
attended Lawson High. Having had enough of her, he
attempts to pass her on to one of his friends.
Gavin and his friends made a concerted effort
to slander Nuala far beyond what one would expect in the
situation initially because of the public manner of
Nuala's break with Gavin and then because she fought back
and ridiculed him and his mates. It should be noted that
Nuala is not without sin in this instance her mimicry of
the boys is a form of revenge.
Friendships and what
Xave is shattered by the lack of support
by his mates when he takes Nuala, wearing tails, to the
school formal. He had counted on them to accept her on his
behalf, not to suggest that she is a lesbian and he, by
association, a homosexual.
question of homophobia is raised a number of times within
the book. Xavier's dad is worried about it after his
younger sister has a go at him in front of the family
claiming Nuala is a boy in disguise (p,123-124) and Xavier
is met at the formal by Brett and Kris telling him: "You
know what it looks like, don't you Xave? You bring some
queer lesbian in a fucking suit to the formal and you know
what it says. That you're a faggot yourself, mate. That's
what it says." (p.147)
Alex's death on the
field during a game of touch football is a great shock in
itself but becomes a burden of guilt to Xavier who thinks
he is responsible. It was he who insisted that Alex, not
only join in the game, but try harder. This takes us to
the issue of whether or not games are to be played for fun
or solely for winning. A question Brother Allbecker hints
at when he talks to Xave after finding him half-way up the
climbing wall at school.
The proper conduct of
Gavin and Nuala. Nuala and
Xavier. The need for trust and mutual support.
Xave is tempted by Scott to try and
take the easy way out of the problem of Nuala being
pregnant. The fact that she is not does not diminish the
ethical position of taking responsibility for one's
The themes inherent in the book are of concern to
young people. Run a series of debates on the various
themes, making sure that the teams do not divide into
gender-based opposition groups and each topic has
representatives of both sexes on either side of the
debate. Ask students to draw on the novel for examples to
support their positions. Suggested topics for debate:
The end justifies the means.
A friend in need is a
Love involves understanding and
he that filches from me my good name
Robs me of that which not enriches him; and makes me poor
indeed (Shakespeare, Othello Act 3, scene 3, 1.155)
Will you respect me in the morning?
Students may care to suggest additional topics.
Read the quotation from Sheryl Crow, 'Strong Enough'
that precedes the contents page and discuss the
significance of it to the novel as a whole, and to
relationships in general.
The novel is arranged in a chronological sequence
of events alternating between Rugby and Nuala. The two are
bridged by Nuala's metaphor of Rugby as a lover and
jealous mistress, which in turn echoes the larger metaphor
within the book of Rugby as life. The ending is ambiguous
leaving the reader to interpret the on-going, if any,
nature of the relationship between Nuala and Xavier.
The language is of the everyday, reflecting the age
group and the school situation. Moloney displays a
sensitive ear for the speech patterns and vocabulary of
The novel is written in the third
person. The overriding point of view is that of omnipotent
author but the narration allows for both Xavier and Nuala
to move in and out of limited points of view. Of course
the prologue belongs to Nuala although it is not specified
at the time.
The story of Joan of Arc is a thread running
through the book.
The first glimpse Xavier has of Nuala
as a 'normal' girl is in a photograph in a newspaper
report of her playing the female lead in Shaw's Saint
Joan, and this immediately takes the reader back to the
prologue where the then unknown protagonist of that piece
tells herself "Shouldn't she know by now what they did to
witches". Xavier later makes the connection between Nuala
and Joan of Arc both wearing men's clothes as armour, and
Nuala speaking to Xavier uses the phrase 'you are the pick
of the basket here' leaving unsaid the remainder of the
line in Shaw's play: 'the only friend I have among all
these nobles' (Scene 5 speaking to Dunois the Bastard of
Orlean). Nuala draws the allusion even tighter when she
asks Xavier "You won't burn me at the stake will you,
Xave? I've had enough of being a martyr?"
might like to discuss a similarity with another play when,
at the formal, Xavier appeals to the boys in a bid to get
one of them to ask Nuala for a dance:
Forget the suit.
Look at Nuala's face, he told them and he put his arms
around her. "it's a beautiful face." But he could not keep
offering her around like this.
In the musical Cabaret,
(based on Christopher Isherwood's play I Am a Camera) one
character sings a song "If you could only see her as I do"
ending with the punch line "you wouldn't think she's
Jewish at all". The play is set in Germany at the time of
the rise of the Nazi party. The allusion to persecution
because of difference can easily be read into Xavier and
Nuala's situation at the formal.
Given Nuala's acting
ambitions and ability the allusions to published plays is
a neat device.
prologue to Saint Joan and discuss Shaw's perceptions of
the historical Joan with those of the reader's about
Nuala. They might find much in common (in addition to
their both being of a similar age). Discuss character and
She is the most noted Warrior saint in the
Christian calendar, and the queerest fish among the
eccentric worthies of the Middle Ages. She refused to
accept the specific woman's lot, and dressed and fought
and lived as men did. As she contrived to assert herself
in all these ways with such force that she was famous
throughout western Europe before she was out of her teens
(indeed she never got out of them), it is hardly
surprising that she was judicially burnt, ostensibly for a
number of capital crimes which we no longer punish as
such, but essentially for what we call unwomanly and
(From the preface to Saint
Xavier is a wonderful
example of a young man on the verge of adulthood;
certainties are wavering and his horizons broadening.
Rugby stands as a metaphor for his changing attitudes to
life. He desperately still wants to be in the First XV but
realises that he is not prepared to compromise his newly
honed sense of what is right, nor is he prepared to
blindly accept the mores of his group. Xavier is an
engaging character as he moves from tunnelled vision to
question the ways in which friends, teachers and family
act. Like Nuala we do think him 'the pick of the basket'.
Nuala is a complex
character. Self-opinionated, abrasive, prickly,
holier-than-thou, vulnerable, self-loathing,
self-possessed, intolerant, are all descriptions that leap
to mind. She is an actor, and with the intensity of her
focus on self, seems destined to become a success. She is
also beautiful, vivacious, intelligent and exciting to be
with. One is never quite sure with Nuala as to when she is
We see the
remaining characters through their interaction with Xavier
or within their group. In a manner of speaking they exist
to provide a mirror for Xavier, or to express a particular
Coach Preston, the flawed adult with an eye
to his own tenure;
Scott becoming increasingly
corrupted through the novel to become a symbol of
unthinking male pride;
Jacob, the staunch friend,
easy going but slow to change his attitudes;
the hanger-on, tolerated but not given the status of close
Alex, the new way of thinking;
Allbecker, the wise elder.
Felicity, is a finely drawn example of a sibling taking an
interest in and supporting Xavier but concentrating, as
she would in real life, on her own life.
these are stock characters they each develop a
recognisable personality and by the end of the novel the
reader is as equally at home with them as with Xavier.
Questions for discussion:
title can be interpreted in two ways. 'Touch Me' in a
physical sense and 'Touch Me' in an emotional sense. Which
is the correct interpretation and why?
Xavier doing when he hires the tails for Nuala and takes
her to the dance? Do members of the class think he did the
right thing? Why or why not?
What is the
significance of Xavier purchasing the blue dress for
Is Scott's father unusual in his aggressive
support of the school Rugby team?
Alex and his
father are surprised at Xavier's insistence on trying hard
all the time at sport. Are they right to be surprised? Is
it correct to say that sport is just a game after all?
How accurate is the author's description of the
party where Jacob learns about Nuala? pp.51-54.
Write entries in the School Year Book for the boys from St
Write a newspaper report on one of the
Rugby matches played by St. Matthew's.
point of view of the interviewer write up an interview
with Nuala for a position at NIDA.
Write a piece for
the school magazine on the retirement of Brother
Write and deliver a eulogy for Alex.
Alex's and Xave's game of collectives choosing a school
assembly, sporting event, or any other occasion the
students may care to suggest as a starting point. A good
introduction to collectives is An Exaltation of Larks by
James Lipton (Penguin)
Girls: choose a boy from St
Matthew's and list all the reasons you can think of as to
why you might like to go out with that boy.
write down the reasons why you might or might not like to
go out with Nuala.
Do not write your names on your
list. Fold and place all the lists in two separate boxes,
one for the girls' responses, one for the boys'. Form
groups of six (3 boys, 3 girls) and draw six 'lists',
three from each of the boxes.
Read and discuss.