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As luck would have it, BODIES OF MEN continues to adventure itself into the world and, sometimes, I get to tag along. As many other authors have noted, there is an element of letting go when a novel is published: what happens is essentially out of the control of the person who dreamed it into being. Some of us worry – some of us worry a lot – but that’s largely unproductive. The novel has to have its own ride.

Here are two things that have happened lately, and one that’s about to happen.

Last month there was a review of BODIES OF MEN in the Australian Book Review. Although it’s rather unbecoming (and possibly dangerous) to focus too much on reviews, this one, by Patrick Allington, did offer a bit of a shot in the arm:

BODIES OF MEN offers a thoroughly humanising depiction of Australians during World War II. In telling the story of two soldiers, William and his childhood friend James, Featherstone reflects upon the brutality, drudgery, and absurdity of war but also on the two men’s love and regard for each other. He weaves a compassionate tale but one that contains multiple layers of tension. It is also persistently surprising, as if the author has found a way to keep the ground beneath the characters – and readers – constantly shifting. Although William and James dominate the story, Featherstone draws upon a range of intriguing, deftly drawn characters; his characterisations of women are particularly rich and complex.’

Speaking of Australian literary journals, one of the gutsiest and hardest-working, Verity La, published an interview with me this week. I thoroughly enjoyed the conversation with Tamara Lazaroff, who asked incitement questions. While we’re talking about gutsy, I understand that shortly Verity La will be running a crowdfunding campaign to keep the journal going. If you can, please swing them a few dollars.

 

 

Finally, next month I will be in Sydney doing a double-headline gig with the very fine  Holden Sheppard. Born and bred in regional Western Australia, Holden’s debut novel, INVISIBLE BOYS, won the 2018 City of Fremantle Hungerford Award, and will be published by Fremantle Press next month. Our joint gig, in which we’ll be chatting to each other about our books and related topics – sexuality, masculinity, intimacy, maybe even love – will be held at Better Read Than Dead Bookshop in Newtown: 6.30pm, Thursday 10 October. It’s free. More information here.

Thank you to all those who have sent me messages or emails saying they have read BODIES OF MEN and enjoyed it. The other day, at a writing event in Canberra, someone came up to me and said, ‘I read your novel, I was absorbed into the world of the novel, and I have kept thinking about James and William.’ That’s all a novelist really wants: to have someone engage with the work in an open way. I do appreciate it. Really.

There has been a bit going on this year in my neck of the woods: seeing The Weight of Light have its world premiere in Canberra and then performed in Goulburn and Sydney (plus two other music projects but more on these at a later date) and a final spit and polish of Bodies of Men before it heads into the world in April/May 2019. As always, reading has been the foundation. Stillness and immersion and revelation and depth: there will never be anything like it.

The following is not really a ‘best of’; it’s just a list of work that I have read that has got beneath my skin.

In Terra Nullius, Claire G. Coleman, a writer from Western Australia who identifies with the South Coast Noongar people, reveals the horrors and hypocrisies that underpin contemporary Australia. In a way, perhaps, the novel is speculative fiction, but the scenario is far too present to be ignored, as are the uncomfortable truths it reveals. This is one of the most unique novels I have read in years.

Speaking of unique, a work that I almost literally gobbled up is The Long Take by Robin Robertson. A verse novel, the narrative follows a D-Day veteran as he travels across the US so he can piece his life together. Rather surprisingly The Long Take is as much about urban planning and design as it is about war; there are also evocations of Hollywood. Disintegration appears to be the unifying theme, but this is not a grim read, nor is it inaccessible. Truly remarkable.

With her trademark lyricism, Robyn Cadwallader in Book of Colours brings to life the people and politics behind the making of a fourteenth-century prayer book; the novel is also about the making of art in general. It is fascinating – and highly moving – from first page to last. A beautiful novel in every way.

Also beautiful is Inga Simpson’s Understory, which is a chronicle of the author’s profound attachment to a small patch of Queensland forest. This is much more than a tree-change memoir: it is also about the desire to live a creative life and the need to find and survive love. Very moving.

Two poetry collections especially resonated: Melinda Smith’s Goodbye, Cruel and Kumukanda by Kayo Chingonyi. In the former, Smith once again displays her extraordinary range, moving seemingly effortlessly from the dramatic to the deep historic. In the latter, Chingonyi investigates music, masculinity and racism, in a tone that reads to me as muscular melancholia – it is wonderful. Both collections I have read more than once.

As others have said, Andrew Sean Greer’s Less is a surprisingly light read for a Pulitzer Prize-winner. It is a warm and accessible read, but it is ultimately a deeply yearning hymn to modern love in a global world. Although often hilarious, Less is also a broken-hearted novel and deserves to be read until the end for its full impact to be experienced.

A second heartbreaking novel from this year, though it is also brain- and soul-breaking, is Taboo by Kim Scott. Another writer of Noongar decent, Scott has created a deeply affecting story about race relations in Australia. In spare but lyrical – at times literally magical – prose, Scott writes about the layers of this country’s history that are far too often glossed over to tell a more appealing but largely false narrative. Taboo is powerful and very necessary.

I also thoroughly enjoyed The Life to Come by Michelle de Kretser and, though it took me a long time (years) to get to it, The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers, as well as On Patriotism by Paul Daley and No Country Woman: A memoir of not belonging by Zoya Patel.

Much of this year was dedicated to reading gay fiction, which I wrote about for Meanjin. I also loved All Being Equal from Griffith Review, because it includes a suite of novellas that explore the contemporary gay experience, and because the stories are deeply moving.

Finally, I was lucky enough to read advance copies of two wonderfully adventurous novels that will be released in 2019: The Artist’s Portrait by Julie Keys, which in a memorably unflinching voice reveals the complex and often fraught nature of creative identity; and Karen Viggers’ The Orchardist’s Daughter – told in the author’s typically unaffected prose, the novel explores the web of relationships and competing viewpoints that exist in and around a Tasmanian forest. Here’s hoping both novels will be much discussed and find a broad audience.

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