H OBART’S northern suburbs do not inspire much literary fiction but the latest novel by Christopher Koch paints an evocative picture of life in Glenorchy, Moonah and New Town in the 1940s.
Koch is one of Tasmania’s best- known writers, twice winner of the Miles Franklin Award and author of famous books such as The Year of Living Dangerously, The Doubleman, Highways to a War and Out of Ireland.
Yet he has received few literary accolades in his home state, despite having a strong local readership, perhaps because much of his life has been lived in Sydney and overseas.
‘‘ I lived in Sydney far longer than in Tasmania,’’ he said. ‘‘ It is very stimulating and that’s where most of my friends are but I always feel at home here.
‘‘ I love the Tasmanian landscape. If you are an islander, you do get drawn back.’’
Koch returned to Tasmania for a time in the early ’ 70s and ’ 90s, living in Launceston, then moved to the Richmond area eight years ago.
‘‘ I like Launceston,’’ he said. ‘‘ It is a charming town and I love the countryside around it.
‘‘ There is a much more brooding quality in the south, because of Mt Wellington, the sea and the sense of being near Antarctica.’’
In his new book, Lost Voices, the 80- year- old returns to the streets of his youth, around New Town and beyond.
‘‘ I think the whole region is unusually beautiful, facing east and north, looking towards the sun,’’ he said. ‘‘ I have an obsession with Mt Direction, as did the artist Edith Holmes.
‘‘ People underestimate the suburbs in Australia and dismiss them as bourgeois but that is where most people live.’’
While Lost Voices is not autobiographical, it is full of memories of a time Koch describes as ‘‘ a completely different world’’.
The second part of the book takes readers back further, to the era of convicts and bushrangers and across the wild landscape to the Tasman Peninsula and the foothills and valleys of the Wellington Range.
Koch is interested in the way the past and present resonate and he has a fascination with duality and connections between the conscious and unconscious. He believes memories can be handed down to us from our forebears.
‘‘ People go to their ancestral homelands and they get a sense that ‘ I’ve been here before’,’’ he said.