A Kind of Confession: The writer's private world
Allen & Unwin, $39.99 hb, 358 pp
Alex Miller’s most recent book, A Kind of Confession, begins with notebook entries from his pre-publication period – long years in which his deep trust in his identity as a writer appears to have been unshaken. In 1971, he notes: ‘I’ve been committed to writing since I was 21, 13 years. Quite a stretch, considering I’ve yet to publish.’ He was in his fifties before his first novel emerged. Yet even when he complains about his apparent failure – ‘Almost 40 and only 2 short stories published. It makes no sense’ – there is no real lapse of direction; he knows what he is. We can’t read excerpts from these early notebooks and diaries without an awareness of his later success as the winner of significant prizes, including the Miles Franklin Literary Award (twice), the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, the Melbourne Prize for Literature, the Manning Clark Medal, and the Weishanhi Best Foreign Novel of the Year.
Miller is a genuinely great storyteller whose ostensibly plain narratives carry a tremendous freight of revelation and ethical understanding in many different national and cultural contexts. To date, he has published thirteen novels, a work of non-fiction, and a collection of essays and stories. But it must have been difficult, at the outset, for Miller, who from his early adult life understood the importance and the challenge of the task he had assigned himself. ‘Fiction,’ he writes, ‘is a metaphor for the richness we believe is in us, but for which we can see little external evidence.’ This is a good definition of fiction, but it might also stand as a description of his own years of literary work and invisibility.