A bookseller, Trevor, sits in his shop in Melbourne making conversation with his customers: an exasperating mixture of confessional, hesitant, deranged, and disruptive members of the public. One man stalks him, armed with an outrageous personal demand; another tries to apologise for assaulting him. The apology is almost as unnerving as the attack. The bookshop is a kind of theatre, with a ceiling mirror reflecting the tops of Trevor’s customer’s heads. Trevor has a seat onstage at ground level, and a seat in the gods. Elizabeth, a book editor, steadies herself against his windows as she begins to faint. His book display is not responsible for this partial loss of consciousness; she has a medical problem and Trevor offers her a cup of tea.
This is the dramatic set-up of Philip Salom’s latest novel, The Returns, a tightly plotted story with a knowing and satirical edge. Salom is a Melbourne writer, initially known for his exceptional poetry, which has won notable prizes, including the Commonwealth Poetry Book Prize – twice. He made a seamless transition from poet to novelist in 1991. The Returns is his fourth novel, following the successful publication of Waiting (2016), which was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Literary Award.