Dennis Altman’s new novel, Death in the Sauna, begins with, yes, a death in a sauna. The respected virologist Pomfrey Lister is found lifeless in a London gay venue, days before a major AIDS conference that he is chairing. His naked corpse is transported home and a death certificatepronouncing natural causes is produced. This hasty denouement is ostensibly aimed at concealing the salacious nature of Lister’s demise, which might overshadow both the conference and his legacy.
Ashley Sievwright’s second novel has several of the hallmarks of his Commonwealth Writers’ Prize-nominated début novel, The Shallow End (2008). At the heart of each is a mystery that slowly unfolds while never overwhelming the story. It is not the dénouement in either book that is important, but the effect that gradual revelations have on the main character’s highly internalised experience of life. Like the earlier book, Walter is filled with droll observations about life, presented at a gentle pace.
Ashley Sievwright’s The Shallow End, an often entertaining début, casts a wry gaze over a steamy Melbourne summer. Narrated by an unnamed observer, the novel attempts to capture an authentically idiosyncratic gay male voice while traversing a myriad of issues, such as heartbreak, sex, media sensationalism, love, cruising and happiness. Both witty and easy to read, the novel, though largely superficial, is filled with moments of droll sagacity.
Diane Fahey’s The Mystery of Rosa Morland is a tour de force, a brooding, postmodern Gothic poem cum novella that provides a happy ending of sorts for characters who deserve one. The poetry, capturing individual voices, is at once accomplished, sensuous and serviceable.
Michael Bernard Kelly is perhaps best known for his association with the Rainbow Sash Movement, a group of gay and lesbian Catholics and their supporters who have, from time to time, been refused Holy Communion when attending Mass wearing the rainbow sash. Cardinal Pell, formerly archbishop of Melbourne, now of Sydney, has been a particular target. Kelly describes himself as the movement’s ‘writer, spokesperson and co-convenor’. For him the sash is ‘a symbol of gay visibility and dignity within the Catholic Church’, and the movement challenges what he sees as the hypocrisy of the Church’s continuing condemnation of homosexuality.