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Fiona McFarlane

Early in The Sun Walks Down, Mary Wallace – mother to six-year-old Denny, who has gone missing in a dust storm – throws her husband a ‘general look of bafflement at having found herself here, in this place, with these people’. It’s a symptomatic moment early in a novel that contains myriad displays of perplexity by various characters – at each other, at situations they create or must navigate, at the meaning of life.

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Let's start with the title. The act of reading is anything but simple, as Fiona McFarlane and Gabrielle Carey both point out. Eyes, brain, and mind cooperate to create from a series of symbols with no intrinsic representative value a coherent message, or some amusing nonsense, or a persuasive argument, or a boring anecdote, or a parade of transparent lies.

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Towards the end of Fiona McFarlane's enigmatic collection of short stories, The High Places, we meet the odd, enchanting story 'Good News for Modern Man', which functions as a key to many of the book's concerns. The story centres around Dr Bill Birch, a malacologist undertaking an obsessive study of a colossal female squid, Mabel, which he has trapped in Ne ...

My hero is Jakob von Gunten, star of, well, Jakob von Gunten, Robert Walser’s singular novel about a school for servants. I love the quality of Jakob’s subversion in that lovely, strange, tiny place. And my heroine: Theodora Goodman, the eponymous aunt of Patrick White’s The Aunt’s Story, who is glorious and difficult and bewildering and kind.

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The depredations of time on the ageing human is an unusual topic for a young writer to confront, especially in a first novel, but why not, if the negative capability is not wanting? After all, it’s common enough for an older writer to inhabit young characters. The difference is, of course, that a young writer hasn’t yet been old. In Fiona McFarlane’s first novel, The Night Guest, the main centre of consciousness, through whom the whole narrative is perceived, is more than twice the author’s age. In an interview in the Sydney Morning Herald, McFarlane revealed that both her grandmothers suffered from dementia and that writing about Ruth, a seventy-five-year-old widow who is clearly becoming increasingly confused (the D-word is never used), is an act of homage and remembrance.

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