Dig­ging for the past

Ge­ordie Wil­liamson

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books -

OBIAS Hill is a young and tal­ented all­rounder of con­tem­po­rary English let­ters. His po­etry — five vol­umes since 1995, mix­ing Ja­panese del­i­cacy with darker ma­te­ri­als — has met with pub­lic ap­proval and crit­i­cal lau­rels, and he was se­lected as one of the Po­etry Book So­ci­ety’s ‘‘ next gen­er­a­tion poets’’ in 2004.

Be­tween stan­zas, Hill has pro­duced short sto­ries, es­says, jour­nal­ism and even moon­lighted as a rock critic at Bri­tish news­pa­per The Sun­day Tele­graph . But it is his fic­tion that has at­tracted most re­cent at­ten­tion.

Hill’s first novel, Un­der­ground , won the Betty Trask prize in 1999. His third, The Cryp­tog­ra­pher , in­spired A. S. By­att to call him one of the two or three most orig­i­nal and in­ter­est­ing younger nov­el­ists at work in Bri­tain. In 2003, he made the Times Lit­er­ary Sup­ple­ment ’ s list of best young writ­ers.

Like Sig­mund Freud, who was fas­ci­nated by the study of an­tiq­uity and called him­self an ‘‘ arche­ol­o­gist of the mind’’, Hill tries to get be­neath the or­di­nary sur­face of things in his

Tfic­tion. His nar­ra­tives are con­cerned with se­crecy and rev­e­la­tion: in com­mon with Freudian anal­y­sis, they work to un­cover truths that are them­selves con­cealed by other sto­ries.

Un­der­ground , a thriller with gothic el­e­ments set in the nether­world of Lon­don’s aban­doned Tube sta­tions, took this spa­tial metaphor and made it con­crete. In its pages, a Pol­ish im­mi­grant’s work on the city’s sub­ter­ranean trans­port net­work leads him to those lower re­gions of the psy­che where per­sonal and na­tional trauma lie in­terred.

The Hid­den uses a kin­dred im­age — an arche­o­log­i­cal dig in present-day Greece, on the site of the an­cient city-state of Sparta — to re­visit the metaphor, this time in terms closer to the

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