How should we deal with what’s lost?
And how should we deal with what’s to become, something unknown but so very much desired?
After years of estrangement, Canning Albury, a revered and irreverent singer-songwriter, returns home to celebrate his father’s eightieth birthday. His welcome is mixed, at best. But Canning has made the trip for more than just a glass of Pol Roger and an eyeful of Sydney Harbour at sunset. He carries a secret about his family’s murky and uncharted past—a secret that could be explosive.
The Beach Volcano is a fearless exploration of life’s many compromises, and the burdens we bear for those we love.
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‘In this tight, spare novella, Nigel Featherstone takes a well-tried narrative formula, the family union for a big occasion, and gives it a treatment both elegant and original. The wonderful symbol of the beach volcano – a banked fire under a mound of sand that will ‘erupt’ if you pour saltwater into its mouth – gathers import and power as the story progresses’ Kerryn Goldsworthy, Sydney Morning Herald
‘The Beach Volcano rises and falls to a compelling beat. Not unlike John Cheever before him, Featherstone unpicks the threads of a successful family to reveal a hollow and corrupted core. With striking imagery, the twin themes of music and water are elegantly interwoven. Unforgettable’ Verity La
‘Nigel Featherstone’s accomplished third novella, The Beach Volcano, takes as its point of departure Tasmania, as had its predecessors, I’m Ready Now and Fall on Me. There is a good deal to admire in The Beach Volcano, whose title metaphor points to a key element in the plot of the novel, as well as to a lost childhood time that, it seems, can only be destructively revived in the present. Mick Dark’s musical career is imagined in economical and vivid detail, Featherstone even managing the very difficult task of giving us a sense of how key songs were born, and might sound. The family dynamic – of pride, concealment, ambition – is persuasively presented, not least in the unconscionable burdens that each of the Alburys feels obliged to accept. Featherstone has once more exploited to advantage the taut, intense fictional range in which he works best’ Peter Pierce, Canberra Times
‘The great contradictions and betrayals of family life are the central concerns of Nigel Featherstone’s new novel, The Beach Volcano, and reading it we share some of the rawest emotions that surface in the swings between guilt and sanctimony that characterise relationships between parents, children and siblings. The Beach Volcano is as much a crime thriller as a domestic drama, and Featherstone’s third and final book in a series of what he calls novellas (but which seem so much more substantial and complete than that) stands alone as something quite original. There is a real sense of excitement as the story proceeds, a heightened suspense that is surprising in literary fiction. Featherstone’s skill as a writer seems to increase book by book, and this novel stands out as the absolute crowning achievement. Utterly enthralling’ Walter Mason, Newtown Review of Books
‘Nigel Featherstone’s new book plunges into the loves and loyalties, the secrets and outward appearances of the wealthy Albury family. This is an insightful and at times disturbing story. Assured and compelling, The Beach Volcano holds you to the last page and beyond’ Andrea Goldsmith
‘A quite simple story of family drama, but with a unique set of characters, and it’s superbly executed at the ideal length for a quiet afternoon read. And yet, while you might be able to polish it off in a few hours, there’s every chance the characters will stick with you long beyond that. An ideal example of the novella form’ Daniel Young, All The Novellas
‘Nigel Featherstone’s prose in The Beach Volcano is ample evidence of his literary writing skills. His mastery of nuance and clever character development techniques combine to drive the plot inexorably forward, and this novella is a compelling one, from beginning to end. You can (and probably will) read this in one or two sittings’ Aussiewriters.com
‘The thing about Featherstone’s books is that there’s potential for high drama, or, to put it more crudely, for violence and/or death. But Featherstone is not a writer of crime or thrillers. He’s interested in family and human relationships, and so, while dramatic things happen, the drama never takes over the story. We to-and-fro between love and hate, welcome and aggression, as this family tries to keep conflict at bay, while threatened by a secret that they refuse to openly confront. Family secrets, gotta love them. Featherstone’s language is clear and evocative. The ‘beach volcano’ of the title works on both the literal level and as a metaphor for simmering tensions that threaten to erupt. In a way, this is a reworking of the prodigal son story, except that in this version the son returns as a success and is, perhaps, the one who extends the greatest generosity. It is about love and acceptance, but has the added theme of the need to face the past before you can truly progress into your future. In its measured way, quite the page-turner. A fitting conclusion to Featherstone’s novella set’ Sue Terry, Whispering Gums
2014 Canberra Critics Circle Award
The Beach Volcano is a novella published by Blemish Books in September 2014.
Price: AU $24.95
Book club questions
1. The Beach Volcano is written as a love letter to both a family and a prospective partner – how did you respond to the various representatives of love presented?
2. It could be said that the key elements of the Albury family dynamic are pride, concealment, and ambition. How does this relate to the typical modern Australian family?
3. What are the moral and emotional complications Canning causes by returning to Sydney to attend his father’s 80th birthday?
4. What do you think Canning truly wants, for the event of the weekend and more generally?
5. How is music portrayed? And what meaning does it bring to the narrative?
6. What role does Simeon Feint play in The Beach Volcano?
7. The notion of a beach volcano forms the core symbol. What does it reveal about the Albury family, as well as families more generally?
8. Some readers feel that novellas lack the brevity of a short story but don’t have the expansiveness of a novel. What are your thoughts on the novella form?
9. During the opening pages, the novella asks, ‘How should we deal with what’s lost? And how should we deal with what’s to become, something unknown but so very much desired?’ How are these questions answered?
10. What future do you imagine for Canning?