Disclaimer: this novel contains very adult content, graphic depictions of violence and frequent very coarse language


Introductory activities

1. Introduce the crime fiction genre 

  • Explain that Truth is an example of the crime genre.
  • Watch the episode on crime fiction from Jennifer Byrne’s The Book Club. Have students make notes on the main features of this genre, using the following subheadings:
    • The nature of the ‘hero’ in contemporary crime novels
    • Structure of contemporary crime novels
    • Changes to the crime genre in recent history
    • Role of the crime genre in society.
  • Sample notes can be located here (PDF, 73KB). Lead into a discussion on the contemporary crime narrative, considering such focus questions as:
    • Why might the crime genre be the most appropriate in which to critique contemporary society?
    • How does the contemporary flawed hero correlate with contemporary understandings of human nature?
    • Why do you think the crime genre has proved so enduring?
    • What might be some reasons for its popularity today?
  • Taking it further:
    • Use extracts or whole short stories from The Colonial Anthology of Australian Crime Fiction, Crime Factory: The First Shift or Crime Factory: Hard Labour to further ground students in the crime genre. Small groups of students can be assigned a particular story or extract to read and discuss. Each group should then report back to the class to build a general picture of the nature and style of the genre. Crime Factory anthologies can be purchased from their shop.

2. Research the features of the various sub-genres within the broader crime genre 

  • There are several links available in the Digital Resources section to sites that explore the various sub-genres within the crime genre. Good overviews are provided at Writers Write and Crime Writing for the HSC. A notable exception from this list is noir fiction, explained at Storyville and in this The New Yorker article. These suggest there are at least ten sub-genres to explore. Assign a student or pairs of students a particular sub-genre to research. A template is provided below to assist in this research. Afterwards, students could either report back to their class or add their research to a class wiki page to collate the groups’ findings.


Sub-genre assigned:

Topic  Notes  References
History of this sub-genre
Features or conventions of this sub-genre
Critical response to this sub-genre
Examples of this sub-genre

3. Introduce the author 

  • Students should research the context of the author, Peter Temple. Imagine Peter Temple is coming to talk at your school. Students have been tasked with writing an introductory speech of approximately five minutes in which they need to give an overview of Temple’s background, outlining:
    • biographical details
    • publishing history
    • awards and critical reception
    • insight into Temple’s personality.
  • In addition, students need to write three specific questions they might pose to Temple in a Q&A session following his speech. These need to be targeted and reflect insight into Temple’s background. For example:
    • ‘How did your experiences growing up in apartheid-era South Africa shape your views of authority?’ (This is a topic which frequently comes up in Temple interviews, as he expresses his disgust for the politics and corruption of his birthplace and his sense of guilt at simply leaving and doing little to protest or bring about change. See this interview from The 7:30 Report as an example of this.)
  • Based on their research, students should also compose the responses they expect Temple would be likely to make, remembering that a good interviewer never asks a question to which they don’t at least already suspect the answer!
  • A number of links to both biographical resources and interviews with Temple are available in the Digital resources section. This is a significant starting point for students’ research.
  • Taking it further:
    • More confident students may wish to take on the role of Peter Temple himself, writing a speech about his life and experience and the influence his background has had on his writing career, again based on the research they have undertaken. The best ‘Introducer’ and the best ‘Peter Temple’ could then be called upon to actually deliver their speeches to the rest of the class.

4. Creative writing based on Black Saturday bushfires 

  • Explore the context of the Black Saturday bushfires, which occurred in 2009 in Victoria. Explain that this event forms the backdrop of the novel. It is a constant presence throughout the narrative. In particular, encourage students to explore the ABC mosaic on Black Saturday, exploring the stories of those who were affected by Australia’s worst bush fire disaster. Other valuable resources include the Black Saturday Bushfires website and The Royal Commission findings.
  • Using an image or a story from one of these websites, students are to use it as stimulus for a piece of free writing. This could be in the form of, for example, a poem, monologue, narrative, personal reflection or editorial. This activity should be about the students developing an appreciation for the devastating impact of this disaster and a sense of the enormity of the threat. If students have had their own experiences with bushfires, they could be encouraged to make such contextual links.
  • Taking it further: Reveal to the students that Black Saturday occurred after Temple had already begun writing Truth. In fact, the impact of the fires made Temple reconsider his continuing to write the novel. After reading the novel, return to this topic and discuss why he might have felt uncomfortable publishing this novel in the wake of the fires.

5. Introduce the text 

  • Explore the title, blurb and cover of the text in a class or small group discussion.
  • Read the blurb together and discuss the ideas suggested:
    • The impact of the statement that ‘a young woman lies dead’ – the matter-of-fact tone and its location in the first couple of sentences might shock the reader. It clearly reveals the genre and style of the text. Explore student responses to this opening.
    • The idea that Villani is starting a murder investigation at ‘the end of a long day’ and that his job is ‘bathed in blood and sorrow’ suggest ideas about the nature of police work and the state of Victorian society.
    • The idea that ‘his life is his work . . . his identity’ begins characterising Villani as a workaholic, but also suggests that the nature of his job does not allow for respite.
    • The pathetic fallacy suggested by the connection of the ‘crumbling’ of Villani’s life and the ‘sweltering summer days, as fires burn across the state’.
    • The correlation of ‘a man, a family, a city’ and whether this suggests a parallel between these three separate narratives. If Villani’s life is crumbling, does this hold true of his family and city?
    • ‘And it is about truth.’ Consider if special significance is attributed to this phrase, given its separation from the rest of the paragraph.
    • Analyse the impact of the visual language used in the cover design; the ideas suggested and audience implied by its design:
      • the predominant charcoal black colour
      • the contrasting burnt orange used for the author’s name and the title
      • the symbolism of the road, particularly as it curves away from the word truth’
      • suggests a journey, but not a straightforward one
      • avoiding the truth or perhaps a journey towards truth but missing its mark
      • the simple, monosyllabic title which invites readers to contemplate ideas about truth
      • consider the effects of the lack of pronoun – would the title’s implications be different if it were The Truth or My Truth, etc.?
      • the arguably masculine nature of the cover: its simple design, simple and bold serif font, dark colours, etc.
    • Explore the potential for meaning implied by ‘truth’. It is both the title of the novel and the last word of the blurb, highlighting its significance. Consider ideas such as:
      • The use of the word truth and its implications in a work of fiction, such as:
        • Can fiction present truth?
        • Is truth merely fiction?
      • The use of the word truth in the crime genre:
        • Is the search for truth a driving force in crime fiction?
        • Is truth an essential part of resolution within the crime genre?
      • The currency of truth in our society:
        • Who are the gatekeepers of truth?
        • Who do we expect to tell us the truth? Consider parents, authorities, institutions, etc.
        • Who do we believe actually tells us the truth?
        • What is the truth and can ‘the truth’ be trusted?
        • Is there a truth or are there truths?
        • Do we always tell the truth?
        • Are there situations in which it is acceptable to not tell the truth?
        • What do we mean by bending the truth or stretching the truth? Are such instances still examples of truth?
        • Etymologically speaking, ‘truth’ has its origins in an old English word of Germanic origin, meaning steadfast, loyalty or faithfulness. Its contemporary usage as meaning fact or accuracy didn’t evolve until the sixteenth century. Does this open up further implications for the title? Is there any symbolic meaning implied, such as the idea that truth can change or is suspect, if even the very meaning of ‘truth’ as a word can alter?
  • Students should discuss their predictions for the novel and their anticipated responses. In doing so, they should consider their exploration of the blurb, title and cover as well as what they have learned about both the genre of crime fiction and the nature of the Black Saturday bushfires. They should then synthesise their response by writing in their journals to revisit post-reading.
  • Taking it further: Students can delve further into the etymology of the word ‘truth’ and its various philosophical conceptualisations through exploration of websites dedicated to the topic, such as this Wikipedia entry. This could be an interesting starting point to engage in debate about whether the internet, particularly wiki sites such as this one, should be considered as repositories of truth.


Outline of key elements of the text

1. Plot 

  • Villani is investigating the brutal murder of a prostitute found in the high-class Prosilio building, when news of a triple homicide in Oakleigh reaches him. Three known criminals are found brutally tortured and murdered. Villani’s investigation leads him to a number of high-profile businessmen and government officials, whose connections frequently attempt to stymie the case. Villani is forced to confront his own past, including his role in the cover-up of the police murder of Greg Quirk, guilt over which drives Villani’s friendship with Quirk’s mother, Rose.
  • At the same time, Villani’s marriage crumbles. He begins a casual relationship with journalist Anna Markham while his wife, Laurie, is travelling for work. His estranged daughter, Lizzie, runs away from home and turns to drugs. Villani uses police resources to relocate her but she disappears again after falsely accusing Villani of sexually abusing her. She is later found dead of an overdose, and Villani is blamed by both Laurie and daughter Corin for being culpable in her death.
  • Villani also struggles with his relationship with his father, due to a difficult childhood characterised by abandonment by both parents and in which Villani brought up his younger brother and half-brother. Their one connection is a forest they planted together on the rural family property, which is currently under threat from raging bushfires. Ultimately the property is saved, a situation that provides the impetus for the healing of their relationship.
  • Villani eventually solves the Oakleigh crime and, in connection, the Prosilio case. Doing so results in the take-down of several high-profile figures, revealing the corruption in all levels of Melbourne society.

2. Setting

  • The novel is set within Melbourne city, across a range of individual settings from the elite Prosilio building in Docklands and the exclusive Persius establishment at the Hawksmoor Gallery to the working class suburbs of Altona and Oakleigh. Various descriptions of Melbourne urban environments are constructed, locating it specifically within this context. As an adjunct, references are made to regional areas named Morpeth and Paxton, the site of raging bushfires. The rural town of Selborne is the site of Villani’s family home, where his father still lives eking out an existence as a minor racehorse trainer. Remarkable about the family farm is the presence of a forest, hand-planted by Villani and his father, yet designed to be as natural in appearance as possible. The farm and the forest are also under threat by the bushfires.

3. Character

  • Stephen Villani: the central character is Inspector Stephen Villani, head of the Victoria Police Homicide Squad. His marriage to his wife, Laurie, is crumbling and his relationship with his children is equally dysfunctional. A complex character, Villani is morally ambiguous but arguably noble.
  • Laurie: Villani’s wife, a caterer.
  • Corin, Lizzie and Tony: Villani’s children. Tony is absent from the novel, living on an island off Scotland. Lizzie has turned to drugs and the street. Corin has her life in order but still blames Villani for not being a father to them.
  • Bob Villani: Villani’s father, a horse trainer who still lives on the family property in Selborne.
  • Luke and Mark Villani: Villani’s brothers. Luke is a race-caller while Mark is a doctor who is being investigated for illegally supplying prescription drugs.
  • Singleton: the previous head of Homicide, deceased. Villani’s friend and mentor.
  • Kiely: Inspector, Deputy Head of Homicide.
  • Birkerts: Senior Detective working with Villani.
  • Dove: Indigenous Detective working with Villani on the Prosilio and Oakleigh cases.
  • Weber: Detective working with Villani on the Prosilio and Oakleigh cases.
  • Joe Cashin: protagonist of The Broken Shore and friend of Villani.
  • Vickery: former colleague of Villani, implicated in the unlawful shooting of Greg Quirk along with Dance.
  • Anna Markham: journalist and occasional lover of Villani.
  • Dance: former colleague of Villani’s, when they worked together in Armed Crime, implicated in the unlawful shooting of Greg Quirk. Now head of ‘Crucible’, a major task force into organised crime.
  • Colby: Head of Armed Crime and superior to Villani.
  • Gillam: Chief Commissioner of Police.
  • Barry: Deputy Commissioner of Police.
  • Rose Quirk: mother of Greg Quirk and friend of Villani’s. He tends to her garden and sees her as family.
  • Max Hendry: high-level businessman, promoter of AirLine, a new public transport option for Melbourne and connected with the Prosilio building, along with his son, Cameron.
  • Ribaric brothers: career criminals, victims of the Oakleigh homicide.
  • Hudson: offsider to the Ribarics, also killed at Oakleigh.
  • Kidd: ex-Special Operations Group (tactical response police officers), implicated in killing of the Ribarics.
  • Larter: Kidd’s partner in crime.
  • Hanlon: pimp who supplied the Prosilio girl.
  • Ullyatt: represents Marscay, the company that owns the Prosilio building.
  • Donald ‘Deke’ Murray: former Head of SOG, retired.
  • Matt Cameron: former head of Armed Crime, whose son, also a police officer, was brutally murdered.
  • Koenig: Government Minister interviewed by Villani and ultimately sacked in connection to the Prosilio case.
  • DiPalma: Attorney General, who along with Orong, tries to steer Villani away from investigating Koenig.
  • Loneregan: Head of SOG, Special Operations Group.
  • Orong: Police Minister.
  • Karen Mellish: Opposition Leader, elected to Premier.

4. Themes

  • The nature of truth: The focus of the novel, Temple explores the construction of truth both by the individual and by societies. He strips away the illusions we build and exposes the gritty realities at the heart of humanity and Australian society.
  • Corruption: Corruption exists at all levels of society. Temple explores the morass of crime, moral decay, cover-ups, jobs for the boys and back-door deals that permeate society.
  • Masculinity: The Australian male reality is exposed in all its flaws through Temple’s incisive characterisation.
  • Parenting and childhood: The impact of these most important of relationships is laid bare by Temple, as we explore the impact of Villani’s own childhood upon his adult psyche and the parenting of his children.
  • Power: The use and abuse of power in a corrupt capitalist society is explored in various incarnations throughout the novel.
  • Justice: Questions of justice and morality are asked of the reader. Some characters are punished for their crimes but others escape. Is justice negotiable?
  • Redemption: Redemption can be considered a driving force in Villani’s life as he struggles with past failures that contradict his own moral code.
  • The media: What is the role of the media in today’s society? Is it a forum for open debate or is it simply another tool for those in power to manipulate?


Synthesising tasks

Talk-back radio (1) 

  • After reading the novel, students can discuss their initial responses via the ‘talk-back radio’ model. Listen to an example of a talk-back radio host inviting discussion of the novel, such as the 702 Book Club on 702 ABC in Sydney. One student may wish to volunteer as the radio host and each student around the room needs to ‘call in’ with their opinion. Encourage students to develop a little repartee or banter and to engage in a dialogue during their ‘call’. These could be recorded by the students either using a mobile phone, tablet or laptop, or Dictaphone. After the completion of their study of the novel, students should return to these initial impressions.
  • Topics for consideration could include:
    • Temple’s staccato writing style
    • the frequent coarse language
    • the authenticity of voice – both in terms of individual character and as a representation of the Australian vernacular
    • the novel’s worthiness as a major prize-winner
    • the noir nature of the narrative
    • the sub-genre to which the novel seems to belong
    • the inclusion of the bushfires.
  • Encourage development of verbal communication skills through discussion which will be assessed in later activities.
  • Taking it further:
    • Less able students, or those reluctant to advance an opinion, could use the callers on the 702 program as the basis for their response, considering which they agreed or disagreed with out of the various callers.

Unit 3
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Unit 4
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Focus questions for exploring the dynamics of male relationships


Explore Villani’s relationship with his father, Bob:

  • What was Villani’s childhood like?
  • Why does Villani consider that Mark and Luke ‘were his first children, really’?
  • What impact does Villani’s relationship with his father have on his own parenting?
  • How does Villani interact with his brothers?
  • Why is Villani jealous of Luke’s relationship with his father, Bob?
  • Why did Villani take up boxing?
  • Why did he become a policeman?
  • Note the ways of speaking between Bob and Villani. How does this characterise their relationship?
  • What does Bob resent about his son? What does the forest represent in terms of this father–son relationship?
  • What do Villani’s flashbacks to his childhood suggest about the enduring impact of Bob’s parenting?
  • How do the approaching bushfires bring their relationship to a head?


Singleton and Cashin seem to be the only people who Villani considers friends. Explore:

  • What qualities do both Cashin and Singleton seem to embody?
  • How did Villani meet both of these men? What does this suggest about the nature of male friendships?
  • Singleton’s impact on Villani is evident in the way Villani finds himself unconsciously modelling himself on his former boss.


Villani’s interactions with others represent a clear stratification in masculine society. Explore:

  • How does Villani keep those below him, such as Birkerts and Dove, ‘in their place’ when he feels they overstep their position?
  • How does Villani act around his superiors even when it is clear he does not have respect for them?
  • When Dove is racially vilified at one point, Villani states that ‘even if you don’t respect the man, you have to respect the badge’. What does this reveal about what is valued in male relationships?
  • What does the language used in dialogue between male characters suggest about male relationships?
  • How do male characters react to moments of high emotion, such as Dove being shot or Villani’s loss of Lizzie?
  • How do male characters bond?
  • What codes of behaviour seem ingrained within male characters? What do ‘new’ recruits such as Dove need to be ‘taught’?
  • Which actions are valued by male characters? Which are denigrated? What does this suggest about masculinity?


The writer’s craft

  • Students should set up a series of pages in their journals to explore the various elements of the novel’s construction. Address the following elements through a combination of class and small group discussions, individual in-class reading/writing activities and homework tasks.
  • It is recommended that students make extensive annotations in their copy of the novel. This can be accomplished through the use of adhesive ‘post-it’ notes if marking the text is not desired. Post-its are available in a variety of colours and could be used to colour-code various types of annotations, such as use of conventions, ideas and themes, gender comments, etc.
  • As students study the text, it is also recommended that they set up a ‘quotes page’ in their journals where they record important quotes for use in written responses later on. A table format is recommended, with headings including: quote, source, context, narrative/literary elements, meaning.

1. Setting 

  • To aid with visualisation, have students locate images that represent the various settings in the novel: Melbourne city, particularly the Westgate Bridge, Docklands and Oakleigh, as well as regional Victoria – perhaps the Kinglake/Marysville region. Locating images from the time of the bushfires that capture the smoke haze that permeated the atmosphere would be useful. Collate these images into a collage or digital presentation.
  • Temple makes strong use of contrasting settings: the city versus the country, high class settings versus low class settings. Students should tabulate evidence relating to each type of setting as well as the attitudes towards such settings expressed by Villani. Review and discuss this evidence, asking questions such as:
    • How do characters, particularly Villani, feel within such settings?
    • Which lifestyles seem to be endorsed?
    • Which are critiqued?
    • What is revealed through the juxtaposition of such settings?
    • What commonalities (if any) connect the various settings?
    • What might Temple be suggesting through his use of setting?
  • The forest is a significant symbol in the text. Look for moments where Villani describes the forest and what it means to him. Ask students:
    • How does it contrast with the urban environments constructed by Temple?
    • What ideas are suggested by the careful nurturing of living plants by Villani, when considering his line of work?
    • What does the forest mean to Villani?
    • How does it operate as a symbol of Villani’s relationship with his father?
    • Can a connection be drawn to Villani’s attempts to create a garden for Rose Quirk?
    • The oaks which are so precious to both Bob and Stephen Villani were collected from various ‘Avenues of Honour’. In what way is the forest an act of memorialisation? What does it memorialise?
    • What is significant about the fact that the forest is a wildlife refuge, even for foxes, much to the disgust of the neighbouring farmers?
    • How does the saving of the forest from the bushfires act as a form of reconciliation between Bob and Stephen Villani?

2. Approach to characterisation 

  • Temple frequently introduces characters with little or no contextualisation. It is often only later that the reader is able to start to draw connections between characters. It is recommended that students maintain a character map as they read, recording names and brief descriptions of characters and using lines to indicate relationships as they become apparent. Particular attention should be made to indicating the hierarchy of characters within the police system.
  • Villani is obviously the protagonist but is he the hero? Explore how Villani compares to the archetypal ‘hard-boiled’ detective. Refer back to the short stories or extracts used to introduce students to the crime genre, as well as the students’ research into sub-genres. Brainstorm the qualities of such a detective and create a checklist, such as the one below. Use the think-pair-share model to encourage students to determine the extent to which Villani embodies this archetype. Students are to write up their final responses in their journals.
 Quality Archetypal Character Villani
Relationships with family
Relationships with friends
Relationships with colleagues
Relationships with women
Past history
Preferred mode of working
Rule maker or breaker
Reliance on hard evidence or intuition
Coping mechanisms
Attitudes to life
Speech patterns
Success rate at solving crimes
  • Names have importance in Truth. Is there significance in that a simple transposition of two letters turns Villani into a villain? Is Temple creating a suggestion about the nature of this ‘hero’? Use this as the basis for discussion into the nature of Villani’s character.
    • Consider whether other names are used symbolically, such as Singleton, Dove, Dance, Quirk and so on. Do these names give additional insight into the natures of these characters? Interestingly, Prosilio is a high altitude village in Greece, whose name suggests ‘towards the sun’. However, it is also from the Latin verb meaning to burst or spring forth. As the starting point of the narrative arc withinTruth, its significance becomes apparent.
  • Individually or in small groups, students should create a character profile chart that maps Villani’s construction, identifying key examples of action, dialogue, interaction with others, narrative commentary, appearance, etc. that reveal aspects of his character. Include page references in the chart for later reference. Alternatively, mind-mapping software could be used.
  • Discuss how Temple’s style and vocabulary reinforce the ideas and attitudes represented by Villani.
  • Villani is a flawed character in many ways. Brainstorm the various flaws and consider their impact on his character and the reader’s response to him.
  • There are several moments of significance in the novel in regards to Villani’s character development, such as him admitting his feelings for Anna, the discovery of Dance’s extortion of Quirk or Lizzie’s death.
    • Have students identify a particular moment that they believe is notable. Students should justify their selections through considered discussion of the moment’s implications for Villani’s character development. These could be noted on cards to form a timeline of his character development along a pin-up board.
    • In addition, explore how Villani’s attitudes change: for example his growing appreciation of Dove or his growing despair over Lizzie. What other changes does Villani go through?
  • Villani accepts the role of crime commissioner at the end of the novel, with Dance as his superior. Does this make Villani complicit in the corruption he has been fighting? Is he a hypocrite? How do students respond to Villani’s promotion? Interrogate this further: what ideological position is encoded in this resolution?
  • The last lines of the novel are ‘a farm boy come to the city’. In what way does this sum up Villani’s character and the extent to which he has assimilated into the ‘system’?
  • Characters are frequently vehicles for values. Assign students different characters in the text and have them use the table below to explore the values represented by such characters. Collate these into a single document either by nominating one student as scribe or by using a collaborative learning platform or wiki such as Edmodo or PBWorks.
Character  Attitudes and behaviours Values represented Is this value critiqued or endorsed? Explanation why I think this
  • Characterisation is not just about the construction of character through language conventions. The reader has a significant role to play. Survey the students’ various responses to the character of Villani. Encourage students to consider the role of their own contexts with their responses. As a class activity, survey responses and note similarities and differences. For example, do female students respond differently to males? Do students’ own relationships with their fathers influence their response? Does cultural heritage play a role in their response? What about students’ own experiences with police or authority?

3. Structure

  • The opening scene is highly symbolic. Villani is attending a fatal domestic violence crime scene in Altona, a working class suburb, and then has to cross the Westgate Bridge to investigate the killing of a call girl in the exclusive Prosilio building at Docklands. What might the connection of the bridge be to such vastly different places where similar crimes have occurred? Is there any significance to the story Villani is reminded of as he crosses the bridge, of its partial collapse? How might the idea of broken bridges – or even mending bridges – foreshadow later ideas and events? Brainstorm possible connections.
  • The opening scene is also quite graphic in its depiction of violence against a woman and child. How does this impact upon readers to be confronted with this in the first few lines?
  • Temple constructs a generally linear narrative arc but employs many non-linear elements to provide the backstory to Villani and other characters and to reveal the context for many of the events that follow. These take the form of flashbacks, memories and free associations. In doing so, Temple builds Villani’s character slowly, never revealing more than the reader needs to know at any one time.
    • Look for examples throughout the novel, such as these non-linear narrative elements (PDF, 55KB).
    • Explore the effects of such a strategy with students:
      • building narrative tension through the drip-feeding of information
      • developing the complexity of Villani’s character over time, as if the reader is establishing a personal relationship with him
      • modelling human consciousness, which does not always think linearly
      • creating a sense of verisimilitude and immediacy, as if the reader is in the moment with Villani.
  • Temple also uses radio transcripts to interrupt the narrative at various points. These are used to advance the plot by jumping the narrative ahead in time, reveal the context of the novel, and are also used to establish the parallel narrative of the bushfires threatening the family property. Have students locate examples of when these radio transcripts operate in each of these ways.
  • Temple has said he likes to make readers work as they read and details and names are offered to the reader without context, yet they become vital later on. Explore students’ responses to this structuring of the narrative.
  • Map the narrative arc from exposition, through to rising action, climax, resolution and denouement. Despite the manipulation of linearity, does the story actually complete a traditional plot structure? How might this relate to genre and reader expectation? Does the crime genre demand narrative resolution?

4. Point of view

  • In regards to point of view, Temple himself regards Truth as ‘first person in the third person more or less, it’s a restricted point of view to Villani’. What do students make of this definition? What does Temple mean by his blending of first and third person point of view in this definition? How is it different from third person limited point of view? Students should rewrite a short passage from Truth changing the point of view to first person, then sharing their pieces with a partner. They should discuss the impact of the shift in point of view and report back to the class.
  • Examine passages, such as that on pages 122-123, that exemplify this manipulation of point of view. After close analysis, students should write a paragraph on the impact this manipulation has on reader positioning.
    • The passage begins with an image of security footage, ostensibly viewed through Villani’s eyes. Tomasic and Birkerts both speak, continuing the suggestion that the reader is being positioned within Villani’s perceptions, that is, until Villani himself speaks and the third person point of view becomes apparent through the inquit tag, ‘said Villani’.
    • The division between narrator and narratee is further blurred by Temple’s syntax in lines such as, ‘Silence in the room’. These sentence fragments suggest Villani’s own perception of the environment and as they lack a distancing mechanism (such as adding, ‘Villani thought’), they encourage a sense of first-person intimacy, as if the reader (or narratee) is in the room also.
    • Other sentence fragments suggest Villani’s direct thoughts. In the following examples, the transition between overt third person point of view to implied first person can be clearly noted:
      • ‘Villani got back to the work. Life went on. Life and death.’
      • ‘The post-mortem . . . said fluid on the lungs greatly in excess of what drowning required. What did that mean?’
    • The ‘interruptions’ of memories further blur the line between first and third person point of view:
      • ‘Colby’s words:
        . . . stuff like this, the media blowies on you, bloody pollies pestering . . .’
    • The interruptions of the radio act in the same way:
      • ‘The radio:
        . . . hoping for a wind shift as firefighters battle . . .’
  • Some commentators have suggested that the novel seems ‘ready to film’. Does the use of point of view and/or focalisation give the novel a cinematic quality?
  • Taking it further:
    • Focalisation is a narratological term coined to differentiate between the narrative voice (‘who speaks’) and the perspective (‘who sees’). Although Truth employs a third person narrator, it is more than limited to Villani. Sometimes the narration actually reflects Villani’s perceptions as he is in the act of perceiving. See these notes explaining this further. What effects does this use of focalisation have upon the reader?
    • Truth would be a very interesting example in which to further explore the theories of narratology, particularly in terms of focalisation. Jonathon Culler provides a good starting point for coming to terms with these theories in his books, Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction and Structuralist Poetics: Structuralism, Linguistics, and the Study of Literature. 

5. Language and style 

  • Temple’s prose is characterised by three Cs: compression, colloquialism and cop-talk.
    • Compression: Temple himself says, ‘I am by nature a remover of extraneous material, a brushcutter’. However, during the writing process of Truth, his editor is said to have accused Temple of paring his prose back to the point of incomprehensibility at times.
      • Select a passage and annotate it closely, identifying use of sentence fragments, absence of pronouns, direct syntax, listing rather than developing descriptive detail, single word dialogue, simple (rather than compound or complex) sentences, rapid transitions between speakers/times/places, frequent dialogue (frequently without inquit tags) and other devices that contribute to the compressed nature of the text.
      • Are there times where students found the prose too compressed and difficult to understand?
      • Why does Temple write in this way? What effects does it have on:
        • pacing
        • immediacy and tension
        • characterisation
        • reader response
        • meaning?
      • Another aspect of this compression is the sudden transitions between thoughts, ideas, different people speaking and even time periods. An interesting exercise, if time permits, is for students to record a conversation amongst a group of their friends. This has to be natural, rather than artificial. Play it back and note how real speech does tend to rapidly transition from topic to topic, often without contextualisation, in line with thought processes.
      • Discuss whether in some ways Temple’s style mimics a form of stream-of-consciousness. Scenes are captured as a series of images interspersed with dialogue and Villani’s thoughts. How does this help immerse the reader in Villani’s world?
    • Despite being a South African originally, Temple demonstrates a masterful command of the Australian vernacular. He says, ‘I write for Australians (although I’m delighted if non-Australians enjoy the books. Anyone really. Martians.)’
      • Look for examples of Australian colloquialism and idiom and explain how they flavour the text. What do they add in terms of style, credibility, characterisation and meaning?
      • The US edition of Truth is to feature a glossary of ‘Australianisms’, though apparently readers in other countries manage without it. Students are to identify five different terms each to contribute to the glossary, along with constructing their definitions. Use this as a basis to discuss the effects of such language in the text. Do all students agree on the definitions of such terms? Are there students in the class who are unfamiliar with these terms? Did it impede their understanding and/or enjoyment of the text? Are readers able to read contextually; that is, to assume meanings through the context in which unfamiliar language is used?
      • In addition to Australian vernacular, there are many cultural references. Temple states, ‘I don’t think readers will like, dislike or be indifferent to Truthbecause they don’t know who Tony Mokbel is or because they know nothing of the terrible fire history of the state of Victoria in a place called Australia. It’s an Australian novel, take it or leave it.’ Do these references matter to the average reader or do they just add a layer of resonance with Australian readers?
    • Temple has insisted that he wasn’t going to explain any ‘cop-talk’. Look for examples of its usage in dialogue of descriptions of procedure. A possible reason for Temple’s refusal to offer explanation is to maintain realism and to keep the reader as close to Villani as possible. Police wouldn’t need explanations of terminology or procedures in the same way laypersons do, so to incorporate them would be an artifice that Temple has done away with. Select a passage from another crime story, or watch a snippet of a procedural show such as Bonesor CSI to note how the characters artificially explain what they are doing for the benefit of the audience.
  • Temple constructs a distinctive voice throughout the novel.
    • Brainstorm words that might characterise this voice, such as dry, laconic, masculine, tough, abrupt, sarcastic, profanity-laden, harsh, colloquial, frequently derogatory and pointed. How does this voice contribute to the ideas of the novel, such as the construction of masculinity or the failure of relationships?
    • Students could explore their response to this question through a written response in their journals.
    • Encourage a brief creative writing exercise where students attempt to mimic Temple’s style and the construction of voice. Perhaps they could write any additional flashback or memory of Villani’s to fill one of the many ‘gaps’ in the story.
  • Temple contrasts passages of very compressed prose with sections of description and then sections that are quite lyrical. Conduct a close study of pp.198-202. Note the brief descriptive detail to set the scene and to describe the character in only broad brushstrokes. After this, the chapter is almost solely dialogue and frequently abandons inquit tags (‘he said’, etc.) to maintain a rapid pace and progress the plot. Phipps, the character talking with Villani here, is not essential, but the information he reveals is. Contrast this with the heavily descriptive passage that follows, as Villani spends the night with Anna (p.203). Compare this with the lyrical descriptions of place, both the streets of Melbourne and the forest in Selborne, on pp.206-207.
    • Use a Venn diagram to identify the similarities and differences between these three styles of writing.
    • Have students survey the text for other examples. What trends do they notice? When does Temple tend to use each style of writing? Frequently, the compressed style is used when advancing the crime investigation. The more descriptive passages are for episodes of Villani’s private life and the lyrical passages are about place – or its destruction by fire. Discuss:
      • How does this help develop Villani’s characterisation?
      • What effect does it have on pacing?
      • What is privileged; that is, what does it encourage the reader to focus on?
      • What ideas and values does this promote?
  • Symbols are used frequently throughout the novel. Explore the possible meanings suggested by:
    • the forest planted by Villani and his father (see Setting for focus questions)
    • Rose Quirk’s garden
    • the fire – both in terms of Villani’s relationship with his father and as a backdrop for the events of the novel
    • the dead possum in the final scene
    • the Westgate Bridge and its partial collapse
    • smells and smelling.
  • Swearing and derogatory talk frequently occur throughout the novel. One of the callers to the ABC’s 702 Book Club was highly critical of the extent of the profanity. She didn’t believe that the police would speak to each other in such ways. Another caller indicated she found it highly believable.
    • Survey students for their response to the extent of usage of such language.
    • Debate the necessity of its inclusion.
    • In what ways does it work to aid characterisation?
    • What picture does it paint of Australian or masculine culture?

Themes and ideas

  • Students should set up a theme chart, such as the one below, to record evidence for the various themes as they are explored.
 Theme Elaboration Evidence Values: what is endorsed/critiqued?
 Male relationships
 Parenting and childhood
  • Undertake a review of the various interviews and discussions provided in the Additional Resources. In small groups, students should listen to or read each text, noting the themes and ideas each commentator suggests on large sheets of paper (one sheet for each theme). From this brainstorming session, each group should then report back to the class to share their findings.
  • The nature of truth is obviously the primary focus of this novel. Through the narrative, Villani – and the reader– come to understand various truths as Temple ‘strips away the layers of artifice’ with which we construct our world.
    • Brainstorm the various truths Villani is forced to confront about:
      • the wealthy and powerful
      • his own police colleagues, especially mentors
      • himself, such as his role in the disintegration of his family and his own moral boundaries
      • his past and present relationships.
    • What truths are confronting for the students? Explore personal responses to the depiction of Australian culture in this novel.
    • ‘It was always going to be called Truth, a small, lovely word with immense power . . .’ (Peter Temple). Students should address this statement in a written response.
    • Read this article, an ethical defence of crime fiction. Discuss the truths this novel reveals. Does it encourage readers to engage with aspects of Australian society with which we are not usually familiar?
    • A significant moral question Temple deals with is the constructed nature of truth. ‘Truth’ becomes something characters create, whether it is the representations of Greg Quirk’s death that are constructed, the attempts by the Prosilio executives to reconstruct the death of the girl in their building in less sensational terms, or the radio commentators’ interpretations of the state of the police and political affairs. Explore the implications this holds for readers. Is truth merely a matter of perspective? Or are there inalienable truths to be discovered?
    • What is the significance of this novel being of the crime genre, where, by its nature, it involves a protagonist whose job it is to construct the truth behind a crime?
    • Return to the introductory activity where students explored the concept of truth, and whether truth is immutable or flexible. Have their perceptions of truth changed as a result of reading this novel?
  • The novel has a significant focus on masculinity and male relationships.
    • Ask students to reflect on their own relationships with their fathers and with male friends, via some personal writing in their journals. How would they define these relationships? What behaviours and language characterise these relationships? What impact do they have on the students’ identity and their own actions and attitudes today?
    • Having examined these relationships, synthesise students’ understanding into a discussion about the nature of masculinity. Hegemonic masculinity suggests that certain ways of behaving are culturally endowed upon males, that a particular construction of masculinity is inculcated from an early age, in order to maintain the patriarchy. To what extent does this seem to be evident in Truth?
    • Have students conduct close studies of various passages that involve interactions between males to analyse the dynamics evident. After individual studying of a chosen passage, students should meet in small groups to share and collate findings.
    • Consolidate these understandings through focus questions, like these.
    • Temple says he didn’t consciously set out to write about male relationships, but notes, ‘Your childhood filters the air you breathe as an adult, it’s in the breath you expel’. Students should write a response addressing the extent to which this is the case for Villani.
  • Students should select one of the following themes to explore further through an individual study.
    • Corruption:
      • Corruption permeates every facet of society in this novel: politics, police, business, high class and low class characters.
      • Villani himself can also be read as ‘corrupted’, by both his childhood experiences and as a result of his job.
      • Consider Temple’s comments on corruption as a seemingly inescapable aspect of the human condition.
      • What is suggested by the fact that Dance and Villani both get promoted at the novel’s resolution?
      • Drawing on textual evidence, consider if Truth offers a bleak or fatalistic view of life.
    • Parenting and childhood:
      • As noted above, Temple believes, ‘Your childhood filters the air you breathe as an adult, it’s in the breath you expel’. How is the Villani family evidence of this idea?
      • How responsible is Villani for what happened to his daughter Lizzie?
      • Map the connections between the three generations of Villanis in terms of the actions of the parents and the impacts on their children.
    • Power:
      • Who holds power in the novel? What is the basis of such power? How is power maintained? Is such power hegemonic; that is, are the disempowered culpable in the maintenance of strict hierarchies of power?
      • Temple has said, ‘the rich and the powerful can make their own reality. And that includes being able to wash away everything that is inconvenient – including crime’. To what extent is this idea borne out in Truth?
      • Is the government culpable in endorsing the power of the economic elite?
      • What is the role of the police and the media in challenging (or maintaining) such hierarchies?
      • Various power hierarchies are explored: bureaucratic, masculine, police, family, etc.
      • Compare and contrast the nature of power hierarchies across the novel.
    • Justice:
      • Is justice served in the novel?
      • Who escapes justice and what is implied by this?
      • Is justice a ‘grey’ area? Do criminals such as Greg Quirk deserve justice? Should readers be concerned, for example, that Dance, who extorted and ultimately killed Quirk, escapes punishment?
      • Is vengeance equivalent to justice?
      • Are readers called to question their own values and sense of morality as a result?
      • Evaluate the moral position promoted by the novel.
    • Redemption:
      • In Australia, bushfires are devastating but can also be a symbol of renewal as several native species require fire to germinate. Does the bushfire offer the Villanis a chance at redeeming their relationships?
      • Explore the reasons behind Villani’s relationship with Rose Quirk. Is this another attempt at redemption?
      • Has Villani contravened his own moral code? Is this a way of understanding his angst? How does this reconcile with his acceptance of his promotion? Does the symbol of the dead possum represent Villani at this point?
      • Villani is a deeply flawed character. He obviously redeems his errors in the investigation and is rewarded, but does he redeem himself with his own family? Can he?
      • How does the concept of redemption drive other characters?
      • Conduct a character study of Villani to determine the extent to which redemption is a driving force in his life.
    • Media:
      • The radio medium acts as a kind of Greek chorus, articulating the political debate, representing the views of dominant society and adding to the tension by revealing the encroaching fires.
      • Consider if the broadcasting media really do act as a forum for public debate, a democratisation of opinion and a forum for the revelation of truth.
      • The media are also powerful tools, used both by and against the police and politicians.
      • Map these attitudes and ideas through close study of the various radio broadcasts in the novel.
  • Conduct a panel discussion in small groups as to whether Truth is a quintessentially Australian novel. In doing so, students should address the writing style and language of the novel, its representation of culture, its implied values and various themes. Afterwards, students should compose a written response in their journals, reflecting on their performance, summarising their stance and justifying their position.
  • Further questions for exploration can be taken from the Text Publishing book club notes.


Synthesising task/activity

Creative writing

Paul Villani is absent throughout the novel and provides an excellent opportunity for students to explore several of the themes, as well as Temple’s writing style from his point of view. This should take the form of a fully drafted take-home composition, based on the following circumstances.

The death of his sister, Lizzie, has prompted Paul to communicate with his father for the first time in months. Have students write a detailed letter, or script a monologue or dialogue, from the perspective of Paul. In it, have them address Paul’s reaction to this news, ensuring that in doing so they explore the relationship Villani has with his children, Villani’s character as a man and a father, and the model of masculinity he embodies. Students also have the opportunity to interweave other themes into this composition, such as the nature of truth, corruption or redemption. Their composition should provide a backstory to one of the most intriguing ‘gaps’ within the novel: why Paul relocated to an island off Scotland – about as far away from Melbourne as one can get.

Students’ compositions should be of a significant length, at least two to three pages. Students should plan, draft and edit their compositions carefully to develop a strong sense of voice and narrative cohesion. They should also write a reflection explaining their authorial choices and how their piece meets the above brief.

Unit 3
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Unit 4
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Focalisation is a narratological term coined to differentiate between the narrative voice (‘who speaks’) and the perspective (‘who sees’).

Although Truth employs a third person narrator, it is more than just limited to Villani. Sometimes the narration reflects Villani’s perceptions as he is in the very act of perceiving.

While this may be hard to explain to students, use the example of a film camera. In one shot, the camera is viewing the action, say of a criminal running from the police, from an external position. We see both the police and the criminal. The next shot seems to be from the police perspective, moving along at pace, the criminal clearly ahead. The next shot may appear to be from the criminal’s perspective, looking over his shoulder at the police gaining on him, before the camera zooms out again to view the whole scene from above, as the police pounce on the criminal. It is one scene, focalised through various perspectives at different times.

The camera analogy may assist students to grasp the use of point of view in the novel. The camera observes scenes externally to Villani, but then occasionally seems to present aspects through his eyes.

Depending on whether the teacher is developing a teaching-learning program for Unit 3or Unit 4, two approaches are outlined below for extending the students’ understanding of the novel’s significance.


Unit 3: Comparison with other texts

Undertake either an author study or a genre study for the purposes of making a comparative analysis. It is recommended that teachers select one of the following comparisons to explore within their teaching-learning program.

1. Comparison with other Peter Temple works

  • Peter Temple’s most acclaimed works are arguably The Broken Shore, a sort of prequel to Truth, and the Jack Irish series. Both have been filmed and screened on the ABC. Students should learn more about these texts, as their protagonists make guest appearances in Truth.
  • Students should watch an episode of Jack Irish and read extracts from The Broken Shore which reveal the character of the protagonist Joe Cashin. Jennifer Byrne discusses The Broken Shore on The Book Club, which may also prove useful.
  • Consider whether these three protagonists conform to the archetypal crime thriller protagonist or whether Temple has created his own model of a hero. What similarities and differences exist between the three characters? What else do these texts have in common that either conforms to or resists typical conventions of the crime genre? Can students define Temple’s oeuvre?

2. Comparison with other texts within the crime genre

  • Having researched the various sub-genres within the overarching crime genre, students should give a five-minute speech to either the whole class or within small groups, arguing as to which sub-genre Truth belongs, demonstrating their understanding of genre conventions.
  • Taking it further:
    • Small groups of students could choose another novel within the crime genre to read independently. Form mini ‘book clubs’ within the class to give students the opportunity to meet and discuss their independent reading, drawing intertextual connections between the generic conventions, themes and ideas of Truth and their additional novel. Use the Jennifer Byrne series The Book Club as a model. This can be made a very pleasant activity if each book club has the opportunity to meet outside of the classroom environment, such as outside if weather permits, or in a reading room at the library or even off-campus. Upon completion, book club ‘presidents’ can report back to the whole class on the discussions of their group.
    • Alternatively, if time is an issue, discussions can take place virtually, either through a class wiki, the students’ own social media platform, or by setting up a purpose-built collaboratve space through a site such as Edmodo or PBWorksReadWriteThink has further information on online literature circles.

Unit 4: Alternate ways of reading the text

Consider a range of critical literacy approaches to the text, as suggested below. If necessary, provide students with some grounding in the basic tenets of gender and class reading theory as a way of examining ideological imperatives within texts. It is recommended that teachers select one of the following alternate readings to explore within their teaching-learning program.

1. Gender readings of the text

  • Explore the representations of females:
    • Critics of the representation of women in literature often refer to four female archetypes: the innocent maiden, the nurturing mother/wife, the temptress or fallen woman and the crone. Students can read about these archetypes in this article or use this Prezi presentation to explore them with your class.
      • Have students interrogate the representation of females in the text and examine the extent to which Temple seems to reinforce and/or challenge these archetypal representations of women. Connections could also be made to the crime genre and whether, historically, this genre has marginalised females.
      • See this ‘Exploring the Representation of Females’ document (PDF, 70KB) for suggested prompts.
    • Consider the language used by male characters in relation to females. What does this suggest about power relationships between genders? What is implied about the status of women in Australia, at least as perceived by men? Even Villani, who exhibits sympathetic traits such as respect for the female victims and guilt over his poor parenting of his daughters, is guilty of misogynistic language at times. What does this suggest about how deeply these cultural perceptions regarding women are ingrained in Australian society?
    • Explore reader response to these characters. Survey the class, asking whether students like/dislike each character. Ask for reasons why. What does this suggest about which characters (and their ways of behaving) we are supposed to support and/or criticise? Overall, can Truth be criticised for perpetuating the disempowerment and/or marginalisation of women?
    • Adam Wenger suggests that ‘to this day, women in Australia represent, in the eyes of Australian men, both sex objects and “promoters of morality”‘. To what extent is this reflected in Truth? Students should respond to this question as an extended response in their journals.
    • Taking it further:
      • Examine Julia Gillard’s ‘misogyny speech’. Students can view the footage orread the transcript on the Sydney Morning Herald website. To what extent do Gillard’s speech and Truth reveal the prevalence of patriarchal and misogynistic attitudes in all echelons of Australian society?
  • Explore the representations of males:
    • Truth deals overtly with masculinity. Begin by discussing what it means to be masculine in Australia. Have students brainstorm the attributes one has historically expected of males in Australian culture. Ask whether this has changed in recent years, whether new masculinities have developed. Refer to popular television shows and the representations of masculinity that they represent and whether these reinforce, challenge or subvert archetypal constructions.
    • Consider the connection between masculinity and politics by reviewing this articlefrom the ABC.
    • Have students interrogate the representation of males in the text and examine the extent to which Temple seems to reinforce and/or challenge these archetypal representations of men. Connections also could be made to the crime genre and whether it perpetuates particular constructions of masculinity.
    • Consider the ways in which Villani might be seen as subverting the stereotype that seems established: he quotes Shakespeare, desperately loves his daughters (although he is not a model father) and wishes he were both a better father and had a better relationship with his own father – he acknowledges the shortcomings his masculine identity has wrought. Is this, however, sufficient evidence to suggest Temple seeks to undermine the dominant masculine construct?
    • Debate the idea that males are as much victims of their gender as females.
    • Many social researchers note that masculinity is being redefined in modern Australia. They suggest that the masculine paradigm has shifted considerably towards a greater acknowledgement of responsibility within the domestic sphere, greater attention to physical appearance and grooming and greater respect towards women. Of course, many argue that underlying attitudes towards women have changed little. Students can listen to an interview with Prof. Gary Dowsett at La Trobe University on this topic, or read the transcript.
      • Discuss the representation of masculinity in Truth in light of this research. Villani, for example, is uncomfortable in his new suit (‘he felt like a girl’ on p.94 for dressing up and being complimented on his appearance), and is critical of DiPalma, noting his fingernails are ‘manicured, pink’ (p.274). Is Temple perpetuating a model of masculinity that is outdated in modern Australia?
      • Astute students may suggest that Villani’s attitudes towards grooming are more a reflection of his working class background, rather than solely a result of his gender. Grooming and deportment are seen as markers of the upper class, figures who are naturally treated suspiciously by those of the working classes. This attitude can be attributed to Bob Villani, whose suspicion runs even to the ‘boss attitude’ demonstrated by his son. Villani can be seen as demonstrating this attitude in such moments as at Persius (pp.94-103) and the Hendrys’ party (pp.280-282).
    • Taking it further:
      • The following monograph is considered one of the most influential studies in Australian masculinities and would be an excellent basis for further research: Connell, R.W. Masculinities, Allen & Unwin. 2005.
      • Another fine resource is Martin Crotty’s PhD thesis, ‘Making the Australian male: the construction of manly middle-class youth in Australia, 1870-1920’, which is available online.

2. Class readings of the text

  • Explore the representations of class:
    • What evidence can students find for a distinct class difference being constructed in the novel?
      • Consider the representation of characters such as the executives of the Prosilio building, the Hendrys and high-level political figures such as Koenig, DiPalma and Colby, who are frequently corrupt.
      • Compare this to the representation of the working classes, such as Villani and the other police who are ‘on the beat’, as well as figures such as Bob Villani and Rose Quirk, who are significantly flawed but not necessarily corrupt.
      • Consider what happens to characters who rise in status, such as Dance and Villani’s doctor brother Mark, who are then revealed to be corrupt.
      • Explore the representation of an under-class, the marginalised who are viewed derogatorily even by the police, as evident in the talk-back radio phone-ins, for example on pp.13-14, the nonchalant references to druggies and whores and Villani’s assertion there are places ‘he won’t live’ (p.227).
    • Students should respond in their journals to the following questions:
      • Australia is usually regarded as an egalitarian or even classless society. To what extent does Truth disabuse readers of this notion?
      • Violence and corruption are seen at every level in society. Are these traits the great equalisers of Australian society?
    • Taking it further:
      • Students may wish to extend their class reading by exploring a Marxist reading practice and applying it to Truth. An accessible introduction to Marxist literary criticism can be found at the Purdue OWL site. Two aspects of the application of a Marxist reading practice of particular interest are:
        • The novel’s comments on the capitalist society it portrays, particularly relevant in light of the constant motif of economics that permeates Truth.
        • The construction of the text itself, its form and style, as a mode of social resistance.
        • See here for suggested prompts.
      • Questions could be asked of whether Truth reinforces the capitalist hegemony through Villani’s acceptance of his new senior position. Although he exposes several examples of corruption to solve the Prosilio murder, he keeps his silence on others – including his acceptance of the $30K that Dance extorted – and is thus complicit in perpetuating such transactions.

3. A reading of the text as an example of the Australian Gothic genre

  • Australian Gothic is a fascinating concept within Australian literature. It is closely tied to notions of post-colonialism and the ‘dark underbelly of the Australian psyche’. Share this podcast from Radio National’s The Book Show to introduce the concept of ‘the gothic’ in the Australian context and the various tropes that are associated with it. Students should take notes on any features of this genre as they listen.
  • Another accessible resource on the Australian Gothic genre is from the This Is Horror website. Discuss which of the following aspects of the Australian Gothic can be seen as applying to Truth:
    • the isolated or exiled protagonist
    • threatening landscapes
    • imagery of corruption and dereliction
    • uncanny settings
    • racism and violence
    • hauntings
    • sins of the father
    • the return of things repressed
    • psychological themes
    • motifs of death, disease and corruption
    • the presence of the abject and other reminders of mortality and human frailty
    • the questioning of one’s identity
    • moral ambiguity within characters
    • a threatening or ‘barely contained’ Indigenous presence or anger
    • non-linear narrative structures
    • multiple voices
    • blurring the lines between reality and unreality.
  • Discuss why Truth seems to encompass so many gothic tropes. In light of the discussion offered in the podcast, consider Temple’s purpose. Is Villani corrupted by the world in which he operates? Is contemporary Australia – as represented by Temple – terrifying? Does Truth encourage us to confront the darkness within our individual psyche? the male psyche? the Australian psyche? Why should Temple want to leave his readers feeling so unsettled?
  • Taking it further:

Unit 3 and/or 4: Evaluation

1. Evaluation of the text as representative of Australian culture

  • A comment from one critic suggested that the inclusion of the Black Saturday bushfires as a motif locates Truth within a very specific place in Australia’s history. A caller to the 702 Book Club radio program suggested it’s a very ‘Melbourne-centric’ novel. How do students respond to these claims? Many of them may never have been to Melbourne or experienced bushfires, let alone the Black Saturday disaster. Does such specific cultural referencing as is evident in Truth impede reader engagement with the text (if one is not from Victoria)?
  • Conduct a media study searching for articles on police and government corruption and evaluate Peter Temple’s representation of these issues in light of the research.

2. Understanding the place of Truth within a rich literary heritage of crime fiction in Australia

  • Students might be surprised to know that one of the earliest successes in the crime genre – before Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes novels – was an Australian novel, Fergus Hume’s The Mystery of a Hansom Cab. It was seen not only as an outstanding example of its genre, but also as a thrilling insight into Melbourne society. This made it a bestseller not only in Australia but also abroad, particularly in England, thus acting in some ways as a precursor to Truth.
  • There are several online resources that explore the history of crime writing in Australia. These include:
  • Students could explore why crime writing has such a significant place in Australia’s literary heritage, particularly in light of suggestions it correlates with our history as a penal colony and frontier culture. This trend could also be considered as indicative of Australians’ somewhat fractious relationships with authority figures.
  • Taking it further:
    • The following brief bibliography is of titles that include discussions of the historical tradition of crime writing in Australia and would be useful for the student who wishes to research this in greater depth:
      • Gelder, K. & Weaver, R. (eds). The Anthology of Colonial Australian Crime Fiction. Melbourne University Press, 2008.
      • Herbert, R. (ed). The Oxford Companion to Crime and Mystery Writing. Oxford, 1999.
      • Knight, S. Continent of Mystery: A Thematic History of Australian Crime Fiction. Melbourne University Press, 1997.
      • Matzke, C. & Muhleisen, S. (eds). Postcolonial Post-mortems: Crime fiction from a Transcultural Perspective. Amsterdam & New York, 2006.
      • Simon Caterson’s introduction in Hume, F. The Mystery of a Hansom Cab. Text, 1999.

3. Evaluation of the text as significant to the world of literature

  • Truth was a very controversial choice for the Miles Franklin award. Even Peter Temple himself was somewhat surprised to have won, according to the ABC News. Much of this is centred on the popular belief that genre fiction cannot be literary. For evidence of this argument, see this Salon article.
  • Explore the nature of the Miles Franklin Award, particular in light of Stella (Miles) Franklin’s comment that, ‘Without an Indigenous literature, people can remain alien in their own soil’, thus stipulating that the prize be awarded to a novel ‘which is of the highest literary merit and which must present Australian Life in any of its phases . . .’
  • Discuss whether Truth is exemplary of ‘the highest literary merit’. Consider, also, the ‘phase’ of Australian life it explores.
  • Students could explore the selection of Truth in a number of forms, depending on their own responses to the novel. Some examples include:
    • a press release from one of the judges justifying their decision
    • an editorial criticising the judges’ choice
    • a blog post from a fan of the crime genre celebrating the recognition of genre fiction
    • an article from the foreign press questioning the bleak representation of Australian life suggested by the novel.
  • Students’ responses should demonstrate awareness of purpose, audience and context and respond to the two criteria required by the Miles Franklin Award: literary merit and representation of Australian life.


Rich assessment task 1 (receptive and productive modes)

Two options are offered to the teacher here, depending on whether a textual response-style assessment is preferred or a more creative composition.

Option 1: In-class essay

In an in-class situation, students are expected to plan and draft an essay of approximately six paragraphs, incorporating textual evidence and maintaining a clear thesis.

Unit 3: Drawing on their research into genre, students should write an essay on the ways in which Truth either conforms to or challenges generic expectations.
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Unit 4: Drawing on their exploration of an alternate reading of the novel, students should write an essay on the ways in which Truth offers a challenging insight into an aspect of Australian culture.
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An assessment rubric (PDF, 75KB) is available for download for use with this task.

Option 2: Feature article

A take-home task, students are expected to plan, draft, proofread and present a fully edited final copy of a feature article, employing the conventions of this form. It is anticipated that students are familiar with this form of writing. See Additional resources for feature articles which students could use as models. For example:

Karen Mellish spends much of the novel as the outspoken Opposition Leader. Fond of calling in to talk-back radio, Mellish is also no stranger to penning the odd opinion article for the daily papers. Determined to make a mark once she is elected Premier, Mellish likes to expound on aspects of Australian society and culture. Students are to adopt the persona of Karen Mellish and construct an opinionative article on one of the following topics. More confident students will examine the novel for examples of Mellish speaking, and try to emulate the voice Temple has constructed for her.

Unit 3: An article in which Mellish calls for Peter Temple to be awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for services to Australian literature. In it she evaluates his body of work and places it in the context of the significance of crime writing to Australian literary tradition. (Information on the OAM can be found here.)
This task requires students to explore representations of themes, ideas and concepts through a comparison of texts. They analyse and compare the relationships between language, genre and context.
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Unit 4:  An article that advances Mellish’s criticism of an aspect of society or culture (as represented by Temple). Students may choose to explore an idea such as:

  • the marginalisation of women
  • Australian masculinity and its problems
  • the decay of social values
  • corruption within the police force and/or government.

This task requires students to examine different interpretations and perspectives to develop further their knowledge and analysis of purpose. They challenge the perspectives, values and attitudes in Truth, developing and testing their own interpretations through debate and argument.
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An assessment rubric (PDF, 83KB) is available for download for use with this task.

Exploring a Marxist reading of Peter Temple’s Truth

Students may wish to extend their class reading by exploring a Marxist reading practice and applying it to Truth. An accessible introduction to Marxist literary criticism can be found at the Purdue OWL site. Two aspects of the application of a Marxist reading practice of particular interest are:

the novel’s comments on the capitalist society it portrays, particularly relevant in light of the constant motif of economics that permeatesTruth

the construction of the text itself, its form and style, as a mode of social resistance.

1. The novel’s social commentary

The basis of real power in the novel is wealth.

  • The wealthy see themselves as above the law, such as Prosilio’s Ullyatt trying to subvert Villani’s police procedures.
  • The wealthy have direct contact with government officials, such as Ullyatt going straight to the Police Commissioner to complain about Villani, and Hendry’s deals with Canberra to secure funding for AirLine.
  • Government serves those who are wealthy, while those who are poor are marginalised.
  • Crime-fighting is commodified through the development of commercial security firms such as Blackwater and Stilicho in the text, and Hendry tries to ‘buy’ Villani himself to head up his security operations, pointing to the complicit nature of politics.
  • Even crime is revealed to be a commercial transaction in many instances throughout the novel.
  • Money is the key to class mobility. Class in this vision of Melbourne society is closely tied to wealth, rather than any notion of heritage, education, cultural capital or other usual markers of class. In fact, members of the upper classes are frequently as crude or unsophisticated as those from the working classes. To operate within these upper echelons, Villani must dress the part, purchasing a new suit, shoes, etc.
  • The whole capitalist society of Melbourne is represented as thoroughly corrupt – a corruption that eventually infects the working classes.
  • The working classes are also seen almost as beasts of burden, serving the economic interests of the capitalist powerbrokers.
  • A capitalist hegemony is constructed where working class people are motivated through the potential for class and status mobility, negotiated through a series of economic transactions.
  • Questions could be asked of whether Truth reinforces the capitalist hegemony through Villani’s acceptance of his new senior position. Although he exposes several examples of corruption to solve the Prosilio murder, he keeps his silence on others – including his acceptance of the $30K that Dance extorted – and is thus complicit in perpetuating such transactions

2. The novel’s form and style as a mode of social resistance

  • The elevation of genre fiction (particularly crime fiction, which has been traditionally relegated as pulp fiction or low culture) to a literary form is of interest to the Marxist reader who may see it as a form of challenging cultural elitism.
  • The use of the vernacular that permeates the novel, particularly the often-confronting use of taboo words and their use by even high status characters, can be seen as challenging the social assumption of such language as the sole province of the working classes.
  • The alternation between vernacular and passages of obvious lyrical qualities further subverts notions of language as revealing class division. Reinforcing this idea is the scene where Villani quotes Shakespeare.
  •  The novel privileges a staunchly working-class man, who retains the connection to his background despite his elevation in status and who resists (to a point at least) conforming to the expectations of those who expect him to behave in particular ways more suited to his position.
  • The use of point of view positions the reader to experience Villani’s world view.

Synthesising core ideas

1. Talk-back radio (2)

  • Students should return to their predictions and initial responses to Truth recorded in the introductory activities. Review these and evaluate how their responses have altered as a result of their study of the text. Stage a second talk-back radio discussion where students justify their considered responses.

2. Debate

  • Having familiarised themselves with the criteria of the Miles Franklin award and completed their study of the novel, students should formally debate the topic thatTruth was a worthy recipient of the Miles Franklin Award.
  • In groups of six, students should form teams for the affirmative and negative. Each team of three speakers needs to address the novel’s literary merit, the significance of its representation of Australian life and its place within Australian literary traditions. In doing so, participants need to draw on their close study of the novel’s construction, its ideas and themes and its significance within Australian culture. They should draw on textual evidence and their wider reading and research to justify their stance.

3. Essay writing

  • Set an essay on one of the following topics:
    • Explore the ways in which language constructs identity, with close reference toTruth.
    • According to one reviewer, ‘the central core of this book is the peeling back of artifice’. What hard truths are revealed in Peter Temple’s novel?
    • With reference to Truth, explore how the construction of a distinctive voice works to convey particular attitudes.
    • ‘True horror lies not in man’s capacity for evil, but in man’s response to it.’ Discuss this statement in light of your study of Truth.
    • Discuss the state of masculinity in Australia today, as represented in Truth.
    • ‘Reading is an active process and the most successful texts are those that engage the reader in making meaning.’ To what extent has this been your experience with reading Truth?
    • ‘Crime fiction, or any genre fiction, cannot be considered literary because it is, by its nature, necessarily formulaic.’ Discuss with reference to Truth.
    • With reference to Truth discuss the idea that conflicts within characters can be just as devastating as those between them.
    • ‘Something is rotten in the state of Victoria.’ Discuss the theme of corruption within Truth.
    • More than just entertaining, Truth, by Peter Temple, is a study in ethics. Discuss.
    • Temple has stated he is interested in ‘the disintegration of things, the way every step forward carries with it its own slide backwards’. To what extent does Truthrepresent this idea?
    • ‘The search for truth can reveal uncomfortable realities.’ Discuss this statement in relation to Truth.
    • What drives the character of Villani: the desire for revelation or for redemption?
    • As a title, Truth is deceptively simple. Explore the nature of truth in Peter Temple’s novel.

4. Personal response 

  • Students should write a final journal entry in which they reflect on their experience of studying Truth. In it they should ensure they explore their personal responses in detail, considering the textual and contextual factors that influenced this response.


Rich assessment task 2 (receptive and productive modes)

The following task is an oral presentation. It is designed to be completed in pairs, but this could just as easily be a small group task or individual presentation. Additionally, it could be adapted as a multimedia presentation. It requires the teacher to take on a minor role and ask questions of the presenters to substantiate their positions.

Director’s pitch

Students are to imagine they are hot-shot young directors who have secured the rights to film Truth. In order to secure funding, they need to pitch the film to the producers. They need to convey that they are convinced of the merit of their film and its relevance and appeal to an Australian audience. After all, they won’t be granted the funds unless the producers are assured of a hit!

Have students create a presentation to reveal their passion for the novel, demonstrating thorough preparation and their commitment to its development as a film.

Their presentation needs to address:

  • the literary merit of the novel as source material
  • an argument as to its cultural relevance: that is, why it needs to be brought to the screen
  • their target audience and the novel’s relevance to it
  • an explanation of their reading or understanding of the novel and its themes, acknowledging there are many ways in which a text can be interpreted
  • an outline of the major characters and their development, as well as explaining their audience appeal
  • the actor they would ideally like in the starring role – and an explanation as to why they think he fits the bill
  • key locations where they anticipate filming
  • an explanation of a key scene and how they intend to draw on the author’s use of literary techniques to inform their filming.

Students will have 20 minutes in which to deliver their presentation. They should be encouraged to make use of props, a digital slideshow or other visual aids to accompany their presentation. Students should be encouraged to deliver it with gusto – but they should be warned: the producers are serious people and they want to see professionalism and credibility.

After the students have delivered their presentation, the producers (or their representative – aka ‘the teacher’) will ask them questions. These may be tough, so advise students they need to make sure they know their stuff and show that they’re not just a one-trick pony with a good memory!

Teachers can warn students to tread carefully . . . they say there are plenty of links between the film industry and organised crime, so they don’t want to mess up.

Unit 3
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Unit 4
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You may wish to use this assessment rubric (PDF, 79KB) for this task.