by Andrew McGahan
Allen & Unwin, $29.95 pb, 320 pp
Several years ago, on two separate occasions, Drusilla Modjeska and David Marr called for Australian fiction writers to address directly the state of the country in its post-9/11 incarnation. ‘I have a simple plea to make,’ said Marr in the Redfern Town Hall in March 2003, delivering the annual Colin Simpson Lecture: ‘that writers start focusing on what is happening in this country, looking Australia in the face, not flinching … So few Australian novels – now I take my life in my hands – address in worldly, adult ways the country and the time in which we live. It’s no good ceding that territory to people like me – to journalists. That’s not good enough.’ Six months before Marr’s lecture, Drusilla Modjeska had published in Timepieces (2002) an essay called ‘The Present in Fiction’, which raised, from a slightly different direction, some of the same issues:
Why are so few people writing novels about the lives we are living right now, here in Australia? Why this retreat of fiction into history, I hear people say, naming one novel after another set in the pre-modern past … too much of our recent fiction has become safe; our novels have lost their urgency, protected by the soft glow of ‘history’.