Central Queensland University Press, $25.95 pb, 259 pp, 192127400X
I was thinking a while back about some of the ways novels begin; not just the famous ones – ‘Happy families are alike’ etc, ‘Call me Ishmael’, ‘Unemployed at last’ – but also some contemporary examples. If I had read Michael Wilding’s National Treasure at that time, I would have conscripted it immediately: ‘Plant slipped down lower in his car seat as the man down the street was beaten up.’ Resounding first sentences often create the problem of where and how to proceed. Wilding manages very well: ‘He was quite a young man being beaten up, and the men beating him up were quite young too. So was Plant for that matter. Young. This was a young country. A young culture.’ These few lines signal quite a lot about how things are to unfold: the blandly matter-of-fact nature of the observation, so at odds with the nastiness of what is being observed; the non sequiturs breaking wildly beyond the apparent bounds of the narrative; and that isolated word ‘Young’, with its insistence, its tinge of impatience lest an obvious point be missed. My little burst of close critical reading is intended to foreshadow that among National Treasure’s various treasures is some wonderful writing.