Review of Jennifer Down’s Pulse Points

Jennifer Down is the author of Our Magic Hour, for which she was named one of The Sydney Morning Herald‘s Best Young Novelists for 2017. Here I review her second book, a collection of short stories called Pulse Points. This review originally appeared in the August 17 edition of Good Reading Magazine.

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There are moments in Jennifer Down’s stories that burn into your memory like bright lights on your retinas. A brother and sister stand at opposite ends of a field, whispering to each other through satellite dishes. A young man caught in a flash of headlights clutches a trembling jerry can full of petrol. A mossy skull and a shoe disintegrate into the soil of Aokigahara, a forest at the foot of Mount Fuji where hundreds of people go each year to commit suicide.

Most of the stories in Pulse Points – either directly or obliquely – involve someone sick, dying or dead. As with Down’s debut, Our Magic Hour, grief and heartache manifest in tiny movements and subtle turns of dialogue, in brief and strange flashes of poignancy that spark up through the lilting awkwardness of life.

Three shorter stories midway through this collection stand out as particularly gut-wrenching. ‘Dogs’ follows a gang of sex-hungry boys led by the burly Foggo. ‘Convalescence’ is about a shell-shocked couple in Paris after they terminate their unborn child. In ‘Vaseline’, bored high-school girls in New Mexico learn self-defence when a man starts attacking people on the street.

The longer, more nuanced and self-contained stories are ‘Pulse Points’, which opens the collection, the closing story ‘Coarsegold’, and ‘Aokigahara’, a story about a woman who travels to Japan to farewell her dead brother; it won the Elizabeth Jolley Short Story Prize in 2014. They are brilliant and affecting stories, at times stark and deftly detailed, told with characters who are hard to shake; I still think of Audrey, the protagonist of Our Magic Hour, more than a year after I read it.

Jennifer Down is a subtly extraordinary writer, and Pulse Points is one of the best Australian literary offerings we’ll see this year.

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Giving Up Glamour: The Magic and Mayhem of Ice Addiction

I’ve recently had a piece of creative non-fiction published in The Quarry journal. I interview Luke Williams, author of the brilliant Walkey-award longlisted The Ice Age, a memoir about his journalistic investigation into crystal methamphetamine addiction that resulted in him becoming addicted and succumbing to psychosis. I use Holly Black’s suburban fantasy novel, Tithe, as a point of departure.

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Will and I walk along the gutter after a summer party gone dull, our bare feet dodging redback webs and shards of glass catching streetlight. An almost empty bottle of vodka swings between us. My hair reeks of chlorine. Will had shoved me into the pool after I swatted a lit fag from his mouth; he’d never have wanted one sober.

He broke the silence. ‘Do you remember that book I leant you?’

‘Book?’

Tithe or some shit.’

I did remember – a black hardback inlaid with a metallic-green butterfly. He’d lent me his copy years ago when we became friends in early high school. I’d never given it back. My slowly sobering brain reached for past imaginings sparked by Tithe’s pages – like remembering a dream with the texture of paper. I get flashes of a girl scorching the underside of a teaspoon with a match, melting a substance the colour of earwax. She draws it up into a syringe and pushes the steel into the inside of her elbow. As a line of beaded blood trails down to her wrist the dark around her manifests into shapes: ogres with hulking muscles, fae wielding swords, changelings with manic faces… Click here to read the full piece at The Quarry. 

Review of ‘Words in Deep Blue’

‘Books, like lovers, mark and change us, and in turn, we mark and change them.’ – Cath Crowley.

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Cath Crowley’s Graffiti Moon was released when I was in Year 10, grappling with the archaic lilt of Shakespeare and the cold prose of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies.

Words were regimented things painstakingly shoved into documents until assignments were complete. My sentences would come back slashed with red marks that told me words should be strung together like this, not like that, and to stop being so bloody fanciful, this is an essay, not a letter to your nanna.

Cath Crowley taught me otherwise; that words should be thrilling and gritty and strange; that they can put an ache in your chest and raise your arm hairs like static. Graffiti Moon kept me up past midnight wondering about Shadow, the enigmatic street-artist ‘with the ocean pouring out of his can’, and gritting my teeth as four teenagers carry out a high-risk heist. All the while a love story unfolds, described as a marshmallow exploding in a microwave.

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Six years later, when I’m stuck in a rut of stories about marriage and murder and romance evoked with as much lustre as a pile of wet newspaper, Cath Crowley re-ignites the awe of words she originally instilled in me with Words in Deep Blue.

Henry’s family runs a second-hand bookshop called Howling Books. He’s just out of Year 12, working in the bookshop to scrape together savings that will take him on a round-the-world trip with his girlfriend, Amy. But one night, lying between the shelves of the self-help section that’s usually the scene of their afterhours make-out sessions, Amy informs Henry that she’s leaving him.

At the same time, Henry’s old best friend, Rachel, returns from the coastal town she moved to from the city a few years ago. Unbeknownst to Henry, she’s fleeing the ocean because her brother, Cal, drowned. She dreams of him: ‘a long frail arc that disappears into sea.’

Rachel takes up work in the bookshop, cataloguing ‘The Letter Library’. It’s a special section of the shop in which the books aren’t for sale. People come and write messages to each other on the pages of their favourite titles. Lovers argue in the margins of Great Expectations, secret letters are left in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and conversations about death are scrawled into Cloud Atlas. 

Words in Deep Blue is a romance between characters as real as the pages they spring from. Rachel confronts the ghosts Cal left behind. Henry struggles between his love for the shambling bookshop and his yearning for Amy. Henry’s sullen cynic of a sister, George, begrudgingly falls for an anonymous letter-writer. Their parents are faced with having to sell the beloved bookstore to developers upon their divorce. Characters’ conversations are recorded in cracking, funny dialogue and quirky letters left between pages.

This novel celebrates stories while telling a hilarious, sad and gorgeous narrative in its own right. Each copy will be passed eagerly between friends, destined to gather dog-ears, dust motes and pencil-marks underlining phrases that gleam like fragments of upturned abalone shell in the sand.

5 stars – Pan Macmillan 

Interview with Miles Franklin Award-winner A S Patric

Melbourne poet, short story scribe and writing teacher A S PATRIĆ talks about his first novel, Black Rock White City, which just won the Miles Franklin Award! It tells the story of a refugee from the Bosnian War, Jovan, who is a former university lecturer and acclaimed poet now working as a janitor in a Melbourne hospital. Jovan sees strange and increasingly malicious graffiti on the hospital walls, and the horrors of Jovan’s former life unravel as the mystery of the bizarre vandalism deepens. This article was originally published in Good Reading Magazine, April 2015.

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How does teaching writing affect your own work?

Literature has been a way to enter the world beyond the suburban wasteland I was born into, and to continue to live in that world is a daily blessing. That’s a word I almost never use, but ‘blessing’ is right, since literature is as close as I get to religion. It’s thrilling when you can help others find their own ways into that particular faith.

Jovan is a bear of a man and a former academic, but is now a refugee forced into overalls each day. How did this character come to you?

I had the notion of graffiti as a particularly aggressive disease breaking out on the walls of a suburban hospital in bayside Melbourne. A janitor would be needed to clean the graffiti off the walls, a job often done by immigrants. That story idea exploded for me when the janitor turned out to be a refugee from the Bosnian War – a professor of literature cleaning away graffiti.

Why did you write about the refugee experience? 

I met refugees from the Bosnian War in the ’90s. Nothing about them revealed the cataclysm they had survived. They were often robust, loved to laugh, and were good-natured. When I talked to them at greater length, a few appeared to me to be like that terrible war’s walking wounded – men and women who had escaped the battlefields yet could still die from their wounds, sometimes years later.

Suzana suspects that Jovan is proud of his heavy accent – why would he be?

Suzana and Jovan have been living in Australia for about five years. When the novel opens, she has found a way to begin to move forward again. For Jovan, Australia is an underworld, a variety of afterlife. They lost both their children in Bosnia so ‘moving forward’ is more than difficult. A person might be proud not to learn the language fluently if he still has his lips pressed to those he loved in another place and in another language.

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Every day Jovan scrubs and bleaches away new graffiti in the hospital. Why is graffiti such a common phenomenon? 

Nature abhors a vacuum, and if that’s true, big blank spaces draw words out of some people. In my novel, the graffiti is provocative, as disturbing as it is creative, but the real issue is that the graffiti in the hospital is the work of a doctor – who, when not using blood for messages on the walls, is performing surgeries and prescribing medicines. From the outset there’s a dialogue between Dr Graffito and Jovan, who finds the poetry of his past life rising to the surface every time he’s forced to clean away another brutal message from the walls of the hospital.

Why did you focus on Bosnian War?

You would think that a major conflict in the centre of Europe would have generated a great deal of literature, yet it hasn’t. Such a recent conflict should be better understood, especially as it offers a perspective on the way in which fault lines can open up within multicultural communities and nations. I think I’d be able to give you an outline of the Bosnian War if I were a journalist, but as an Australian writer of fiction I’m more interested in histories that find confluence here in Melbourne, eddying into stories about contemporary life.

Many people would have unwittingly walked past a refugee on the street who may have faced unfathomable cruelty. Are the majority of Australians oblivious to the terrors that refugees may have experienced?

A politician might speak for the ‘majority of Australians’. What seems significant to me in attempting to respond to this question is that our government has been fuelling xenophobia for many years, and how we respond to refugees has become radically politicised. Literature can return us to our humanity.

Why do people foster such a violent infatuation over nationality and religion? Are people by nature discriminatory?

Religion and nationality are forms of community; both are derived from love. History shows us that they are often corrupted by hate. Violence in humans perverts every institution. And fear destroys everything else.

Jovan and Suzana’s story is vast in breadth and decades in length. Why have you condensed the story of a war into the suburbs of Melbourne?

Black Rock White City is not the story of a war. It’s about Melbourne. More specifically, it’s about the love of a husband and wife that survives the loss of nation and faith, family and children. Melbourne is a city made by such resilience. Strife and disaster is in the histories of most people who settled here after the First Fleet found the Australian coastline.

If you were to tell Jovan’s story in a poem, how would it go?

White        Cloud

Over

Blue                Water

_____

Red                       Sk

Weeping

Black                    Ocean

Black Rock White City is published by Transit LoungeRead my review for the novel here.

Review of ‘Lily & the Octopus’

Steven Rowley’s Lily and the Octopus was inspired by a real sausage dog named Lily. This review was originally published in Good Reading Magazine, June 2016.

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On Thursdays, 42-year-old Ted and his dog Lily talk about boys they think are cute. Ted fawns over Ryan Gosling and Lily scandalously suggests Chris Pratt. Friday is therapy day. Ted endures an hour in an overlit office, drifting off and craving cookies as his feckless shrink attempts to understand why he and his partner of six years, Jeffrey, split up.

Fridays nights are for Monopoly and Saturdays are for movies. On Sundays they eat pizza. Monday is for appointments and on Tuesdays, Ted reluctantly leaves Lily dozing in the afternoon sun and battles through the LA traffic to meet his best friend, Trent, who is preferably waiting for him at their favourite restaurant with two chilled martinis. This routine has worked fine since Jeffrey left; Ted and his shrewd and sassy sausage dog are more than content together. Until a foul octopus affixes itself to Lily’s skull. How did Ted not notice it creeping into his living room? As his panic rises, the smug cephalopod grows larger and larger, taunting Ted as it tightens eight warty tentacles around the beloved dachshund’s head.

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This book is as bizarre as it sounds, even absurdist at points, but never in a way that leaves you feeling alienated or confused. It’s a story that wriggles into your heart and nestles on your lap, and the concluding chapters are difficult to get through because you’re reading them through tears. Steven Rowley has created characters who are incredibly endearing despite their foibles, with a wit and waggishness that could easily stand up against The Rosie Project. A slightly experimental, fully hilarious and quirky story with doses of poignancy that spread warmly through your chest like shots of vodka.

4 stars – Simon & Schuster

Review of ‘The Bricks that Built the Houses’

A review for performance poet Kate Tempest’s debut novel, The Bricks that Built the Houses. Originally published in Good Reading Magazine, April 2016.

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Slam-poet Kate Tempest won the Ted Hughes Prize for innovation in poetry for Brand New Ancients, an hour-long spoken performance in which she melds modern London with Greek mythology. Her debut novel, The Bricks That Built the Houses, is just as ingenious yet set in an unaltered present-day London; gritty, hectic, and populated with hollow-faced youths shaking out the dregs of last night’s chemical highs.

It’s unbelievable that the first draft of this brilliant novel was smashed out in less than a week…”

Tempest creates a main cast made up of Becky, an aspiring dancer, Harry, a boyish girl who sells cocaine to bored businessmen, and Pete, a lanky, lost young man unable to find employment. The main arc of the story centres on the three twenty-somethings as they flirt, fight, and fall in love with each other and navigate the fraught affairs of large-scale drug dealing. Tempest builds a bleak view of modern London, but characters burst off the page and illuminate the graffiti-addled streets with life. There are no side characters in this novel. Seemingly irrelevant family members or friends of the main protagonists are introduced as unimportant sparks that Tempest then kindles into flame. She delves into the past of every new person we meet along the way with extraordinary imagination and depth. It’s unbelievable that the first draft of this brilliant novel was smashed out in less than a week, scribbled onto paper by Tempest in the back of her tour bus.

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This book will appeal in particular for those who fall into the ‘new adult’ genre. It captures the anxieties of a generation stuck between education and employment, high-school flings and marriage, teenage optimism and middle-aged cynicism; a generation plagued by political distrust and frustration at a time when we’re at our most fiery but taken the least seriously. With her inventive and darkly dazzling prose, Kate Tempest reminds us that we are all struggling, but we are all connected.

4/5 – Bloomsbury

Holding the Man: The memoir, the movie & the doco

A piece I wrote about Tim Conigrave’s memoir, Holding the Man, on the 20th anniversary of its publication, and in light of its recent film adaption by Neil Armfield. Originally published in Good Reading Magazine October 2015.

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I open Google translate. Sadness is caught like a fishbone in my throat.

‘Ci vedremo,’ I type. The language is automatically detected as Italian, and the translation begins: we will see each other

Oh god. I keep typing.

‘Ci vedremo lassù…’

We’ll see you up there… 

The screen wavers in blurred, watery streaks. I finish the phrase.

‘Ci vendremo lassù, angelo.’

The text jumps.

I’ll see you soon, angel.

The sadness becomes unstuck. Tears fall onto my keyboard and make a little salty moat around my spacebar, which refuses to work for an hour or so afterwards. We sit quietly together, both temporarily out-of-order. I’ve just translated the last line of Timothy Conigrave’s memoir, Holding the Man, written in 1995. He’s in Italy writing a letter addressed to his partner of fifteen years, John, who died of AIDs a few months prior. This isn’t a spoiler; it’s well known that John passes away at the end of the memoir, and it’s even implicated in the blurb. Tim himself died of the same disease not long after he had finished the manuscript, before it had been published. But the imminent death that underscores every sentence of this memoir isn’t nearly as important as the raw romance and the relentless candour Tim portrays it with that established this book as an Australian classic.

Tim met John Caleo in the mid seventies at their Melbourne high school. Tim fell into a deep crush with the quiet Italian boy, who was captain of the football team and had really incredible eyelashes for a dude. What happens next is worthy of any Glee finale episode or commercial YA romance novel. The gawky, awkward protagonist and the gorgeous school jock fall deeply in love. At first John is so shy you’re convinced he’s not into it, and you think it’s going to be another painful story of a gay guy falling for the straight heartthrob, but no. One lazy Friday afternoon in class they’re watching a movie on a grainy projector, and Tim feels John subtly begin to rub his back. Boom. It’s a sealed deal. Your heart leaps as much as Tim’s must have. It’s a superb and shining moment before tragedy begins to seep into their story as the couple grow older and Tim, John and their friends come to face the AIDs crisis of the 1980s. Over half a million people died of the disease in the US between 1980 and 2000 alone.

Life for a young gay person is lonely. The struggle of figuring out your sexuality, the anxiety of craving acceptance, and the aching urge to find people who understand you all make that moment when you finally do fall in love for the first time even more elating. Instantly, that loneliness vaporises, every moment is thrilling and terrifying, and you feel your life-plan explosively and exhilaratingly expand to suddenly accommodate two people. To imagine that feeling being drained away by a disease no one knew anything about yet is beyond devastating; to have your reason for living become a death sentence is perhaps the definition of heartbreak.

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Tim Conigrave & John Caleo

What makes Holding the Man so addictive is the blaring honesty with which Tim writes about this experience. He writes with an openness achievable only by someone who had nothing to lose, by someone who knew he was dying. I don’t know whether he should be vilified or commended about how freely he writes about his numerous infidelities. ‘He opened his mouth and out rushed the truth’, writes David Marr in his introduction to the newly published film tie-in of the memoir. As endlessly frustrating as Tim’s disloyalties to John are, it makes you realise how truthful and sincere he is when writing about his love for John too.

My heart sat thickly in my mouth for the entire second half of the book after the lovers both test positive for HIV. I knew what was coming. Part of me wanted to sprint through the rest of the book, to reach the inevitable end, to be done with it; the other part urged me to slow down, to savour the happy parts while they lasted before I ran out of pages and a hollow, depressed feeling filled me up instead. The former urge took over, and I devoured the last half of the memoir in less than a day. As I finished the final page, the latter feeling settled in my stomach like a cold, smug stone.

The translated phrase still hovers on the screen in front of me. Sometimes, a movie, a phrase, or a health-scare will remind you of your approaching death like a slap around the ears. Other times it’s more like a punch in the guts. Finishing Holding the Man was like receiving an uppercut to the jaw swiftly followed by a roundhouse kick in the chest that sends you barrelling down a steep flight of concrete stairs.

Books in themselves are reminders of mortality, even if they don’t deal explicitly with death, because a book’s pages are so obviously limited. As soon as you take up a novel in your hands, you’re aware of the front cover and the back; between these two barriers is the only space the characters will be allowed to breathe. While it’s impossible to know when a person’s life will end, as you near the last chapter of a book, you can feel between your fingers the exact number of pages left before the final sentence. Somehow, you become aware that each day you live is indelibly etched with a number in black ink, just like the pages of a novel. Each night when you go to bed, that moment of blankness between falling asleep and waking is like the turning of a page. You’re slowly, steadily and unconsciously rustling towards the end of your story, and who knows how close you are to your concluding full stop?

But enough of dwelling on death. What a reminder of mortality should do, if administered correctly, is spur you into a renewed lust for living. That’s what Tim Conigrave does with Holding the Man. Tim and John’s story bristles with life and love, and this memoir’s vivaciousness is all but enhanced by its proximity to the promise of death. The result is a book that is equally joyous and devastating, electrifying and sexy, a story that urges you to savour each touch from a lover and every beat of your heart you have left in this calamitous, beautifully brief thing we call life.

I delete the translation, shut down my computer, and I walk outside.

The memoir and movie of Holding the Man both make my chest ache in different ways and I highly recommend them. There’s also a recently released documentary called ‘Remembering the Man’ that looks fantastic. Trailer below.

The Great Fire Review – Belvoir St Theatre

The Great Fire by Kit Brookman

Dir. Eamon Flack

There comes a time once a year when most families congregate in a predetermined location to lie to one another. The young will be interrogated. The old will holler for attention. The middle will practise lifting their cheeks into painful smiles. Eyes will roll, relationships will fray and privacy is a temporarily forgotten privilege. The exhausting event will culminate in a maelstrom of stress, hot disputes and unearthed angst before all being sluiced away by a cleansing torrent of white wine and beer. By the next day, the whole affair will hopefully be a hazy memory as the families sit stonily side-by-side in a crammed Boxing Day blockbuster.

The time is Christmas. The skirmish begins.

The Great Fire is set in the modern-day Adelaide Hills on a property built in the 70s by baby boomers Patrick and Judith (Genevieve Picot & Geoff Morrell). They’re a successful artistic power-couple who actually made enough money from theatre to be able to purchase their own land (unbelievable, I know) in conjunction with two other families.

Their recently married daughter, Lily (Shelly Lauman), is currently living in said house with her husband, Michael (Eden Falk). He’s a loud, grating, narcissistic, opinionated dickhead. (No one likes Michael). The pair are hosting the entire family for Christmas and New Year. Judith and Patrick’s other two adult children are Tom (Marcus McKenzie), who’s desolate after his partner Max left him earlier in the year, and Alex (Yalin Ozucelik), who’s expecting his first child with the gorgeously optimistic and heavily pregnant Hannah. All the children are pursuing careers in the arts. All are unemployed.

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Photos by Brett Boardman

More family and friends roll in over Act 1 with sweat patches blossoming under their arms and dark stains down their backs. Particularly notable is the arrival of Patrick’s elderly parents. His father (Peter Carroll) is completely adrift in the incomprehensible daze of dementia. But, unexpectedly, his scenes are hilarious, and the attitude of his wife, who refuses to be frustrated or disgusted by her decaying husband even when he wets himself, is really inspiring and moving. But baby-boomer Judith wants none of it. She instructs her children to smother her with a pillow or douse her in kerosene near a conveniently lit match before she even gets close to that point of feebleness. The way we deal with our dying parents with dignity and practicality is just one of the astoundingly real, relatable and universal family issues explored by the play.

The concerns of middle-class Australia are flung out in well-written rants; Patrick laments the lacklustre response of society to the threat of climate change and Judith throws her arms up in valiant efforts to motivate her down-trodden children to keep pursuing success in the arts. There are a few spectacular explosions of frustration that define the main intention of this play: to present and critique the ludicrous expectation that upcoming generations will be able to pursue ‘The Australian Dream’ as easily as their predecessors. With impossible property prices, this Dream of sunny acreages and organic vegetables and retirements spliced with overseas trips needs to be drastically redevised, otherwise within a few decades, dissatisfaction and disappointment will be as vast as our deserts. ‘All we can do is rearrange the furniture in the structures you’ve already built,’ Alex says sourly to his Dad. ‘We’re just a change in the wallpaper.’

These dispiriting themes don’t dominate, though. The Great Fire is a flawlessly acted, hot and hilarious family drama. Genevieve Picot is spectacular as Judith. It evokes the comedy and chaos of Christmastime perfectly, and it felt particularly real to me; I spend all my summers at a family farm, so the sweat, jovial uproar and whole-family attempts at chasing sheep out of the garden all rang very true. But it’s the hottest year on record, and ash is on everyone’s tongues. Is the house destined to go up in flames?

Young people already know what The Great Fire strives to say. If you’re someone who thinks the generations below you are ‘whiney and ungrateful’, this is essential viewing.

4/5

The Great Fire runs until May 8.

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Review of the Miles Franklin Longlisted ‘Black Rock White City’

Black Rock White City was a favourite of mine from last year, so I’m thrilled to see it long listed for this year’s Miles Franklin award. A S Patric is a brilliant writer, check out more of his work here.

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Jovan is a hospital cleaner. A refugee from the Bosnian War. A former literature professor and poet now forced into overalls each day. He’s a father rendered childless and a husband distanced from his wife, Suzana, by the unfathomable horrors they experienced together in their home town of Sarajevo.

Bizarre and cryptic graffiti begins to bloom in the Melbourne hospital where he works. It starts on the walls, spreads into bathroom cubicles and floors and is etched onto patient’s bodies. What initially starts as a source of gossip and intrigue becomes increasingly threatening as Jovan realises the unidentified graffiti artist is trying to communicate with him.

Jovan and Suzana are both writers stripped of confidence and articulation. Their lives in suburban Melbourne are frustratingly mundane compared to their work as intuitive academics in Sarajevo before they were forced to flee. Snippets of Jovan’s poetry work their way into the story in shining and lyrical little passages, although these ebb away as Jovan becomes increasingly tormented and isolated. He clings proudly to his strong Serbian accent, even though he knows he is judged for it and considered a dumb immigrant.

This is a superbly executed work of experimental literature that explores the effects of a war overlooked by most Australians and the story of two displaced souls in suburban Melbourne. Lyrical yet gritty, raw and grounded, this is a fiercely and brilliantly written debut.

5 stars – Transit Lounge – $29.9

 

‘The Trees’ Review

A review for ‘The Trees’ by Ali Shaw, one of my new favourite writers.

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In the predawn darkness of a small English town, worms begin to thrash up out of the mud. Stag beetles swarm in panicked masses across doorsteps. Foxes yap and dash in orange streaks through the sleeping streets. And then the trees come.

They burst up through the ground as a full-grown forest, tearing into houses and skewering their occupants with quaking boughs. The trees decimate buildings and roads, tossing cars into the air and severing electricity cables, which come to dangle uselessly over branches like dead vines.

Adrien Thomas, a cowardly schoolteacher moping while his wife is away on a business trip in Ireland, meets the irrepressibly optimistic Hannah and her 16-year-old son while they all wander dumbly through the leafy apocalypse that has obliterated their town. They decide to head west together in the direction of Adrien’s wife and Hannah’s forester brother, hoping that there is an end to the sudden forest. But the trees have destroyed everything they once knew, and they find themselves navigating a dark and dangerous new landscape where survival, for the first time in their lives, must be fought for.

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Ali Shaw also creates incredible magic-realism drawings: check them out here.

In an extraordinary feat of imagination pulled off only because of his excellent writing skill, Ali Shaw has created a world so fascinating that I wanted to fall into the pages of this book and walk around with its characters. The descriptions of modern cityscapes impaled by ancient forest are endlessly mesmerising and the character development is wonderful. The Trees enraptured me from the moment I saw its striking front cover to well after I had finished the last page, when I found myself staring at the trees outside, searching the branches for tiny wooden faces peering back at me from behind the leaves.

Five stars – Bloomsbury $27.99