Ten­ta­tive steps into an ocean of pain

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - OTHER VOICES ANNE SUSSKIND

IN James P. Oth­mer’s The Fu­tur­ist ( Alma Books, 287pp, $ 32.95), his hero man­ages on one lec­ture cir­cuit to give a speech to the Or­ganic Farm­ers of Amer­ica and a lead­ing pes­ti­cide man­u­fac­turer and re­ceive stand­ing ova­tions at both. Such is the cyn­i­cal world of the fu­tur­ist J. P. Yates, who is paid vast sums by big cor­po­ra­tions to de­tect the in­ter­na­tional mood and trends. This de­but novel has a skit­ter­ing kind of bril­liance, the kind that comes from con­spir­acy the­o­ries, thickly lay­ered char­ac­ters and an in­tri­cate web of cross- ref­er­enc­ing.

An­other first novel, Blood Kin ( At­lantic Books, 185pp, $ 29.95), by South African- born Cerid­wen Dovey, comes with the en­dorse­ment of J. M. Coet­zee. It has about it the pale echo of one of Coet­zee’s early works, as peo­ple in an un­named, time­less coun­try ex­pe­ri­ence a coup and then dance like pup­pets in a mis­er­able and of­ten masochis­tic pat­tern of com­plic­ity, be­trayal and sad, de­feated lust.

Dovey’s char­ac­ters are finely drawn in spare prose and are some­times quite shock­ing: ‘‘ There is a calm that comes from think­ing only about one­self; I would ven­ture to say it is the only true free­dom. Self- de­vo­tion — and by that I mean de­vo­tion to one­self — takes time to per­fect, like all skills worth de­vel­op­ing, and re­quires ex­treme dis­ci­pline,’’ thinks one of her char­ac­ters.

While Oth­mer and Dovey break the mould to cre­ate imag­ined worlds, first nov­els seem more com­monly to be a blood- let­ting, an air­ing of the per­sonal is­sues their au­thors have to get out of their sys­tems be­fore mov­ing on. The Aus­tralian nov­els un­der re­view, both by young women, are, pre­dictably, about murky fam­ily stuff and grap­pling for iden­tity and mean­ing.

Karen Foxlee’s ( Univer­sity of Queens­land Press, 281pp, $ 32.95), which won a Queens­land Pre­mier’s Lit­er­ary Award for best emerg­ing au­thor, is set in a min­ing town, again not sur­pris­ing, as Foxlee grew up in Mt Isa. It’s about griev­ing as a 10- year- old girl strug­gles to come to terms with the death, pos­si­bly by sui­cide, of her way­ward, beau­ti­ful and pro­mis­cu­ous teenage sis­ter.

Jen­nifer and her friends try to piece to­gether what led to the tragedy. It’s prob­a­bly too drawn out, too spe­cific, but any­one who has had to deal with a sud­den death will recog­nise the au­then­tic­ity in the pick­ing and un­pick­ing of the life of the de­ceased and, fi­nally, un­der­stand­ing that re­sult.

In Nine Parts Wa­ter ( UQP, 296pp, $ 23.95), Emma Hard­man, who grew up in By­ron Bay and has set her story in a surf­ing town, casts the net of trou­bles wider and man­ages to weave to­gether fairly co­her­ently Aus­tralia’s two worst na­tional sore spots, the treat­ment of Abo­rig­ines and refugees, plus, for good mea­sure, can­cer, drugs and other is­sues. A bit of over­load again, as if she has had to cast around to gain depth, but the de­scrip­tions of the tri­als of young Woomera es­capee Has­san are heart­felt and heart- rend­ing.

The Triple Point of Wa­ter ( Poly­gon, 288pp, $ 24.95) is by Fiona Dun­scombe, a young English writer who trawls, in a mat­ter- of- fact but af­fect­ing style, through a cold, dys­func­tional child­hood that leads to her hero­ine be­com­ing a strip­per in a Soho night­club. When things get too bad and the pain too much to bear, she cuts her arms, usu­ally just a lit­tle, to ease the pres­sure inside. It’s set against the back­drop of Mar­garet Thatcher’s nasty, small- minded Eng­land and the sleaze of Soho. Dun­scombe, who won the Dundee In­ter­na­tional book prize for this novel, writes well enough to make you care for her strangely sweet nar­ra­tor and hope that she’s ex­or­cised what­ever it is she needed to with this book. Anne Susskind is a Syd­ney jour­nal­ist and reviewer .

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