Penguin $29.00 pb, 359 pp
A Geelong psychiatrist once asked someone very like me, ‘What’s the opposite of love?’ It was a bit like a question in a tutorial (psychiatrists and academics do have a thing or two in common). The answer, of course, couldn’t be so obvious as ‘hate’. It was ‘indifference’.
This tableau could be from Alan Wearne’s pen, and indeed Wearne’s latest verse novel, The Lovemakers, is a long exposition on the theme of love as indifference's opposite. Fifteen years ago, Wearne’s The Nightmarkets won prizes and attention as that rare thing, the verse novel (receiving five review essays in Scripsi). These days, narrative poetry is all over the shop. But if the narratives of Wearne, Dorothy Porter, Les Murray, and others have anything in common, it is their stylistic idiosyncrasy. The Lovemakers is long, lacks a conventional plot or central character, and boasts conspicuously odd syntax and dialogue. It is an oxymoronic work: one voice and many voices; highly ‘poetic’ and deeply demotic; a factitious and formalist version of naturalism.