Late: A novel
Transit Lounge, $32.99 hb, 200 pp
Michael Fitzgerald’s new novel, Late, opens with a camera obscura, a direct reference to Christopher Isherwood’s Goodbye to Berlin (1939). The image is a nifty one – a portrait projected across the Pacific Ocean, as well as across time itself – and it goes some way to signalling the author’s intentions: he wants to create a novel deliberately weighted by the creative works (films, books, art, and sculpture) that have come before and, for his protagonist – who in real life died on 4 August 1962 – those that have come since.
Fitzgerald, coy and suggestive as his subject, keeps certain key pieces of information at bay for a while. We know early on that we are in Sydney in the late 1980s, and that an ageing actor has faked her very public death in California decades before. Certain famous photographs are mentioned, one of her reading James Joyce’s Ulysses. There is a reference to the Actors Studio, and soon the third husband, the tall, nebbish intellectual for whom she converts to Judaism. By now, those familiar with the rudimentary facts about life of Marilyn Monroe will have cottoned on to the conceit.
She never says she is Marilyn; rather, she talks of a persona named Zelda that she wears like a fur coat (whether or not this is a play on another, doomed Fitzgerald seems academic). This public face gets her up and out into the Sydney air, sharp and briny from the nearby sea. It allows her to sneak off to the cinema to see Francis Ford Coppola’s Peggy Sue Got Married (1986); to quote Kylie Minogue’s ‘I Should Be So Lucky’; and, in a neat and moving trick, to read Arthur Miller’s autobiography, Timebends (1987), and correct the record.