Alex Miller’s third novel treads some complex and difficult territory, staking out the past, memory, and the creation of self. It is also an incursion into the shadowy borderlands that lie between history and fiction, and the way in which, for every individual, the past has a different face. It is a very modern novel, in its rejection of the linear certitudes of an earlier age, and a very Australian one, too, in its ambivalence towards ancestry and individuality. In a most immediate way, ‘Australia’ is a created thing, a fiction shaped by nineteenth-century notions of the individual, in conflict with the more elemental notions of ancestry.

At the beginning of the novel, the author quotes Soren Kierkegaard: ‘Our age has lost all the substantial categories of family, state and race. It must leave the individual entirely to himself, so that in a stricter sense he becomes his own creator.’ Yet it is that lonely clarity of the individual which has come under attack in very recent times – what one might call the post-modern age – and the notions of ancestry, of the supernature of the past, in both their illuminating and destructive aspects, have rushed in to fill the gap. We no longer believe that the individual can actually ‘create himself’; we are as much shaped by our past, by our ancestors, as by our own actions or thoughts. Politically, this change, it seems to me, is expressed in such seemingly bewildering events as the break-up of Yugoslavia, and the dark forces at work within other parts of Europe, such as France’s National Front, where ancestry becomes the idol. Not ‘the end of history’, nor a return to ‘Middle Ages’ (a notion as constructed as history itself), but an inevitable change in a pattern which has never satisfied the most elemental of longings. We see this surfacing, too, in the environmental movement.

Artistically, this shift has resulted in many rich and complex works, in which the past, the present and the future are no longer seen as a linear progression but, rather, as a kind of giant tapestry where threads weave in and out.

Such is The Ancestor Game. It begins with Steven, a young Australian whose Irish mother now lives in England, and whose Scottish father has just died. On his return from England, Steven meets Gertrude Spiess and Lang Tzu. Both are Chinese Australians. In an ironic exchange at the beginning of the book, Lang says to Steven: ‘We’re all Australian, Steven. What are you really?’ This is ironic, too, because the Anglo-Celt is the one who usually feels entitled to ask that sort of question, not the obviously ‘different-looking’ one! The novel is full of these kinds of ironies, always reminding us that to trust to appearances is to put oneself into the most ridiculous of positions. Little by little, as Steven comes to know Gertrude and Lang, he also comes to know of their histories, of their ancestors, and he is soon following that trail, through journals, dreams, conversations, into the shadowlands of the past.


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    Alex Miller’s third novel treads some complex and difficult territory, staking out the past, memory, and the creation of self. It is also an incursion into the shadowy borderlands that lie between history and fiction, and the way in which, for every individual, the past has a different face ...

  • Book Title The Ancestor Game
  • Book Author Alex Miller
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  • Biblio Penguin, $14.95 pb, 0140159878
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Alex Miller has been named as a finalist in the 2009 Melbourne Prize for Literature, a rich award given triennially to a Victorian author for a body of work. It is hardly surprising that a writer who has twice won the Miles Franklin Award and frequently been the recipient of, or short-listed for, other prizes should be among this group of contenders; Lovesong is Miller’s ninth novel since the publication of Watching the Climbers on the Mountain in 1988. He was then in his early fifties, had written poetry and plays, helped found the Anthill Theatre, and taught creative writing. The sustained period of prose fiction which followed has earned the author not only celebrity but affection.

While there is great variety in Miller’s novels, readers know that they can expect thoughtful treatment of significant but non-apocalyptic themes, among them attachment to land or country; displacement to new settings; deeply valued family life, often in conflict with other, equally honourable aspirations, such as the artistic vocation. Few people, of course, choose books for the sake of theme alone; what is most reliable is Miller’s gift for inclusiveness. As readers, we feel instantly drawn into the lives of his characters, at home in their homes.

For this reason, I am willing to bet that Miller is a favourite with book clubs – far from a put-down. Where would literary fiction be without its constant readers? These stalwarts must be the bread and butter of the publishing industry, tackling each month or so a work not necessarily of their personal or preferred choice. Committed to the literary ‘fair go’, they will bravely take on the likes of Booker prize-winners that have confounded the critics and puzzled the public. But how relieved they are when the choice falls on a work that is both sympathetic and stimulating, inclusive and interesting, thought-provoking yet able to be read in bed. The faithful will feel well rewarded by Lovesong.


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    Alex Miller has been named as a finalist in the 2009 Melbourne Prize for Literature, a rich award given triennially to a Victorian author for a body of work. It is hardly surprising that a writer who has twice won the Miles Franklin Award and frequently been the recipient of, or short-listed for, other prizes should be among ...

  • Book Title Lovestong
  • Book Author Alex Miller
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  • Biblio Allen & Unwin, $35 pb, 354 pp, 9781742371290
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In Alex Miller’s latest novel, Journey to the Stone Country, we are not in Carlton for long before being taken far to the north, to Townsville, and then inland to country that few Australians know. The short first scene is handled with dispassionateness and economy. Melbourne history lecturer Annabelle Beck comes home to find that her husband, Stephen Kuenz, has deserted her for an Israeli-born honours student. He has left a note so sickeningly self-exculpating and badly written that one is glad his future entrances are restricted to mobile phone calls. In despair, and on a whim, Annabelle phones her friend Susan Bassett, who works as an assessor of the cultural significance for Aboriginal people of sites marked for mining and other development. Annabelle flies to Townsville, where the house to which her parents moved after they sold their cattle station, Haddon Hill, still stands.

Soon the two women are on the road, travelling south and then inland to the Burrambah coalmine. There Annabelle meets a man who knew her when both were children and his Aboriginal grandmother owned the Verbena station that adjoined Haddon Hill, along Gunn Creek. This is Bo Rennie, once a ringer and now a representative of the Jangga people in their dealings with business and government. To summarise the rest of the gracefully simple plot: Bo and Annabelle become lovers and head back to their ancestral places, weighing the different sorts of value that each has for them, coming to the borders of the Jangga stone country (where Rennie’s grandmother was one of the last to be born), to the ‘playgrounds of the old people’. The ending of the novel is open rather than inconclusive. As before – for instance, in his previous book Conditions of Faith (2000) – it is Miller’s desire to let the ending resonate with the complicated possibilities so carefully set out in what has come before.


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  • Custom Article Title Peter Pierce reviews 'Journey to the Stone Country' by Alex Miller
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    In Alex Miller’s latest novel, Journey to the Stone Country, we are not in Carlton for long before being taken far to the north, to Townsville, and then inland to country that few Australians know. The short first scene is handled with dispassionateness and economy. Melbourne history lecturer Annabelle Beck comes home to ...

  • Book Title Journey to the Stone Country
  • Book Author Alex Miller
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Allen & Unwin, $39.95 hb, 368 pp, 1 86508 619 3

Every author has some version of origin story: a narrative describing what it was that first compelled him or her to write, or at least what attracted them to the role. You can hear the tale harden into myth as an emerging author shapes themselves to those obligatory rubrics of self-disclosure required by writers’ festivals. Sometimes the transition from would-be novelist or short story writer is so smooth as to be seamless, an osmotic passage from student of literature to practitioner. These are more likely to be authors already inculcated with the requisite cultural confidence and tutored intelligence of their caste. The children of the creative classes are those who are born to write, as others are born to rule.

But there is another, perhaps more interesting kind of author – the sort who emerges from nowhere. The progenitor figure in the modern Anglosphere tradition is D.H. Lawrence, that wild, weird, proletarian genius (in the local context, Miles Franklin offers a different yet no less compelling case, based on gender and nation rather than class). Unlike those who have been raised up in the relatively sophisticated cultural infrastructure of English literature departments or creative writing degrees, whose tendency is to address themes or subjects removed from direct experience, self-made writers are likely to take their own emergence as a subject. They have willingly chosen their way, not inherited the possibility of the writing life. The story they have to tell, at least in part, is the story of their becoming.

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  • Custom Article Title Geordie Williamson reviews 'The Passage of Love' by Alex Miller
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    Every author has some version of origin story: a narrative describing what it was that first compelled him or her to write, or at least what attracted them to the role. You can hear the tale harden into myth as an emerging author shapes themselves to those obligatory rubrics of self-disclosure required by writers’ festivals. Sometimes ...

  • Book Title The Passage of Love
  • Book Author Alex Miller
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  • Biblio Allen & Unwin, $32.99 pb, 592 pp, 9781760297343

In The Simplest Words, Alex Miller's recently published work on his own journey through country, writing, love, friendship, and fatherhood, there is a remarkable scene of levitation. Miller describes his young daughter soaring up his own bookshelves, past the spines of The Heart of Europe, The Cambridge History of English Literature, A Dream of Red Mansions, Voss. This is not magic realism; his child is not afloat in the air. It's a game between father and daughter: she is pretending not to see him, and he is lifting her purposely rigid body by the elbows; lifting her strongly into the zone of books, while explaining to her that, really, she is too big to lift. I imagine the steady euphoria of this child, delivered up into a higher-than-adult perspective of her father's study. Love and trust, two words that recur frequently in Miller's account of his life, are evident in this description of cherished books and a cherished child.

The Simplest Words is a collection of excerpts from Miller's fiction and reflections on his life and beliefs, chosen and introduced by his wife, Stephanie Miller. The pieces form a cumulative account of the substantial intellectual and creative contribution of Alex Miller, who was born in a South London council estate where 'our caste knew nothing of flight, real or lyrical', and whose life and ideas resist confinement.

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  • Custom Article Title Brenda Walker reviews 'The Simplest Words' by Alex Miller
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  • Book Subtitle A Storyteller’s Journey
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  • Biblio Allen & Unwin, $35 hb, 368 pp, 9781743313572
Wednesday, 20 May 2015 15:34

Open Page with Alex Miller

Why do you write?

Writing interests me as nothing else does. It keeps me more or less sane until lunchtime.

Are you a vivid dreamer?

My dreams desert me at first light, and I struggle to recall them. A trivial event during the day may bring them back. They are obedient to rules I don’t understand.

Where are you happiest?

Happiness, as inspiration, refuses to be coerced and is always a welcome surprise wherever I am.

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Wednesday, 20 May 2015 11:36

Alex Miller

Alex Miller (1936–), is an Australian novelist. His first novel, Watching the Climbers on the Mountain was published in 1988. Since then, he has won many awards for his fiction. He has twice won the Miles Franklin award, for The Ancestor Game (1993) and for Journey to the Stone Country (2003), and also twice won the Christina Stead Prize for Fiction in the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, for Conditions of Faith (2001) and Lovesong (2011).

Reading Australia

Alex Miller photograph by John TsiavisAlex Miller (photograph by John Tsiavis)

 

Morag Fraser has written about Journey to the Stone Country (2002) as part of the Reading Australia initiative. Click here to read her essay.

Further Reading and Links

Reading Australia teaching resources: Journey to the Stone Country (2002)

Brenda Walker reviews Alex Miller: The Ruin of Time (2014) in the December 2014 issue of ABR

Jane Goodall reviews The Novels of Alex Miller: An Introduction (2012) in the June 2012 issue of ABR

Brian Matthews reviews Coal Creek (2013) in the October 2013 issue of ABR

Morag Fraser reviews Autumn Laign (2011) in the October 2011 issue of ABR

Open Page with Alex Miller in the October 2009 issue of ABR

Alex Miller's website featuring photographs of the people who inspired Journey to the Stone Country

Jane Sullivan, Interview: Alex Miller, Sydney Morning Herald, 5 October 2013

Andrea Streeton reviews Journey to the Stone Country, Sydney Morning Herald, 16 November 2002

‘Miles author hits out at ‘‘dud’’ Rudd’, Jason Steger, The Age, 22 April 2010

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There is no recommended apprenticeship for writers. Nor are there any prescribed personal or professional qualifications. Hermits, obsessives, insurance clerks, customs officers, women who embroider, men who write letters, public servants, soldiers, drunks, provincial doctors and gulag inmates have all become great writers. How? A mystery. But avidity – about the world and the people in it – helps. So does a sharp eye, a tuned ear, and hands acquainted with work.

When seventeen-year-old Alex Miller migrated alone from his native England to make a life for himself in Australia, he already knew how to shoe a horse, muck out a stable, hunt stag, and survive – even thrive – in an English west-country world where class and ingrained social distinctions might have defined – or confined – him.

Half a century later, in 2003, the one-time Somerset farm labourer won Australia’s highest literary accolade, the Miles Franklin Literary Award, for his novel Journey to the Stone Country. He had won the Miles Franklin once before, in 1993, for The Ancestor Game, his searching Chinese/Australian novel about homeland and exile. And in all of the years before and between, Alex Miller had been taking note of the world around him. As a child in England, as a stockman in Queensland, horse-breaker in New Zealand, storyteller, university graduate in English and History, teacher of writing, drama entrepreneur (he co-founded the Anthill Theatre and was involved in the Melbourne Writers’ Theatre), he had been absorbing detail, salting it away. ‘There is a sacredness about detail,’ he says. ‘For example – and the examples are what matter – at a certain time of the morning, when the dew is still about, if you kick the earth there will be a particular smell.’

Miller’s novels honour that ‘sacredness about detail’. Their smells are specific and linked to memory; their landscapes gleam with angles of light that have ‘heft’, as poet Emily Dickinson, put it. Their texture is both physical and psychological, as here, in a lyrical passage from Journey to the Stone Country:

They ascended the incline of the ridge through a tract of country where prehistoric grasstrees and cycads stood in isolation among bloodwoods and stunted hickory, petrified sentinels from the age before man, their shaggy topknots and skirts trembling in the mountain breeze as if they would flee at the sight of the oncoming vehicles.

Journey to the Stone Country first edition, Allen & Unwin, 2002Journey to the Stone Country (Allen & Unwin first edition, 2002)

The two principal characters of Journey to the Stone journey, Bo Rennie and Annabelle Beck, are driving into the Queensland hinterland as if into an initiation, a discovery, or perhaps a recovery. (Officially they are engaged in a survey of cultural artefacts in country slated for mining or flooding). The land registers their approach: it shivers with apprehension. Miller says (in his publisher Allen & Unwin’s website notes) that there are in fact three main characters in the book: Bo, Annabelle, and Landscape.

‘Description’ is not the apt term for what Miller is doing in the Stone Country passage, or indeed in any of his eleven novels. His landscapes are always freighted with meaning. Indelible, they fix visual impressions for the reader and at the same time prompt questions, much in the way the great Quattrocento painter Masaccio fixes his unforgettable faces in an Italian landscape but all the while spurs you to ask about human motivation, human emotion. Who are we? Where are we? Why do we humans do what we do? What makes us tick? Renaissance questions. Universal questions. Questions Alex Miller explores, habitually and instinctively, in all his fiction.

Sometimes Miller’s landscapes are interior. In The Ancestor Game, his narrator, puzzling over distinctions between self-sufficiency and isolation, reveals the following:

Since my earliest childhood recollections I’d believed that if I could only reach deeply enough inside myself, one day I’d come upon extensive and complex landscapes rich with meaning and mystery, waiting for me to explore them.

It is not by chance that the cover to the 1992 edition of The Ancestor Game carries an urban landscape by Australian artist (and Miller’s friend) Rick Amor, master of the haunted scene, the metaphysical enquiry. In the painting a man – small, seemingly incidental – is climbing up a ladder into a dark, rectangular opening, his face obscured. What will he find? Will his world open out or be blocked? Is he escaping or questing? It is the kind of conundrum Miller’s novels confront.

‘Who are we? Where are we? Why do we humans do what we do? What makes us tick? Renaissance questions. Universal questions’

So, if landscape is the third main character in Journey to the Stone Country (and in all his novels), it has external and internal dimensions. It has evocative power – you can see every blade of buffel grass, smell the drought-breaking rain coming – and centripetal force: it draws you deep into the world of Miller’s imagining, to his creative centre, the place where his ideas foment and questions germinate. Questions that probe every aspect of our shared humanity, questions that transcend race, nationality, and tribe.

Stone Country was written over eighteen months, and in three drafts – a relaxed pace for Miller, who has sometimes spent years (seven for The Ancestor Game) on a novel, and at other times has finished one in a few hectic weeks. Autumn Laing (2011) was written under intense pressure (ten hours a day for five months). Coal Creek, his most recent novel (2013), written over ten weeks, ‘just flowed out’, Miller says. He had the voice, the lingo of Bobby Blue, the novel’s focal character ‘in his head’. It was language he had spoken himself as a lad, its rhythms and syntax easy on his tongue.

Journey to the Stone Country (Sceptre edition, 2002)Journey to the Stone Country (Sceptre UK edition, 2002)

Miller, whose mature baritone reflects his Scots-Irish parentage as well as a traveller’s lifetime of experience, listening, and study – in outback Australia, in France, Tunisia, Germany, China, in cities and country – has a mimic’s gift. He can do voices. Some of them have been his own. For Stone Country, with its blend of city talk and the dialectical inflections of stockmen and country people, indigenous and whitefella, his linguistic knack is crucial to the novel’s – and its characters’ – authenticity. He allows his people their full expressive range without patronising, without a hint of satire. Remember when English regional voices were considered uncouth? Now a Yorkshire or Geordie inflection has international cultural cachet. Miller’s characters don’t need fashion or trends: they speak authoritatively in a language that is their own, a language inviting to the ear.

Novelists are often coy about their sources, about the ‘real-life’ models for the characters in their books. Alex Miller is the opposite. He frankly acknowledges that he always draws from life – and then transfigures what he knows through the alchemy of fiction, so it becomes something else. Another order of truth. Journey to the Stone Country is dedicated to his wife, Stephanie, and also to his two friends, ‘the real Bo and Annabelle, whose story this is’.

‘The real Bo’ (you can easily find biographical details via Google if you think you need them) recognised a natural storyteller when he met one, and was too canny to let an opportunity slip. In the 1990s he told his mate Alex that one day he (Alex) would write a book about Bo’s Jangga country and its ‘Old People’. A few years later he invited Miller to come with him and his partner (‘the real Annabelle’) on a journey south from Townsville into the Bowen Basin and then further inland to the ranges, into his territory, the country of his Jangga ancestors.

Alex Miller says stories are gifted to him like this. It is as though they drop from the skies. But if they drop, it is into fertile ground. Autumn Laing’s story swooped on Miller in London’s Holland Park, where he’d been sitting on a bench, thinking about writing out the debt he owed to Sidney Nolan, whose photographs of Australia’s north had galvanised his migration to Australia. The novel’s seedbed is Miller’s felt obligation to Nolan and his familiarity with members of Melbourne’s Heide circle, including the place’s chatelaine, Sunday Reed, who was the model for Autumn. But the story, and its mercurial heroine, rapidly outgrew their sources and assumed a vivid, independent life.

For Stone Country, Miller took ‘the real’ Bo and Annabelle’s story, and crafted it into a fiction about friendship, historical violence, family, love, loyalty, massacre, and vengeance, set in a landscape he already knew in his bones, having ridden it for years as an itinerant stockman, but which he would go on discovering the more he travelled with his friends, and the more he wrote. Characteristically, his completed tale ripples outwards from its poignant centre. The delicately erotic love story of Bo Rennie, Jangga man and ‘Queensland ringer’, and Annabelle Beck, the academic historian long distanced from her Queensland homeland and white colonial past, is the focus, the significant example (‘the examples are what matter’), the resonant detail in a larger Australian history of differences between blackfella and whitefella. Are those differences irreconcilable? The novel is subtle and complex, asking the question and embodying answers in its characters, some of them, like the vehement and implacable old Jangga woman, Panya, intent on prosecuting a race war ‘for another thousand years’. Others, like Bo and Annabelle, are drawn together by a force that seems to transcend history and suggests possibilities, once unimagined.

Journey to the Stone Country (Allen & Unwin edition, 2003)Journey to the Stone Country (Allen & Unwin edition, 2003)

Bo and Annabelle both have forebears who murdered out of fear, racial malice, or in lethal payback. They also have family members who crossed racial divides, confounding cultural norms and expectations. Bo’s Scottish grandfather, Iain Rennie (after whom Bo is formally named), fell in love with a traditional Jangga woman, sought her mother’s permission, and married – in a reciprocated love match. Grandma Rennie, as Bo calls her, was a woman of powerful character and an invincible sense of her own and her family’s dignity. After Iain Rennie’s premature death (he is killed in a fall from his horse), she lives on as the undisputed mistress of her station property. When it is taken from her, late in her life, the dispossession is done by fraud, not by law. The task of its repossession falls to her grandson, Iain Ban Rennie – renamed Bo by this formidable woman.

The novel is as much about the way power is used – so often ruthlessly – by dominant individuals and groups as it is about racial difference. Its epigraph, from the Austrian modernist writer, Robert Musil is an intriguing choice: ‘A ruling caste always remains slightly barbaric.’ (Musil’s own novels were banned by the Nazis, and he died in 1942, in Switzerland, in exile with his Jewish wife). Miller is too morally intelligent, too tactful to draw facile comparisons between the Holocaust and Aboriginal dispossession, but the guilts that attach to past atrocities are part of the fabric of his work, notably in Landscape of Farewell (2007), which reintroduces the character of Dougald Gnapun, Bo’s companion from his wild stock-mustering days. Dougald also looms authoritatively over Stone Country – a bridge figure between the Old People and the next generation, the new life. It is his children, the beautiful Trace and her quiet, watchful brother Arner (the novel’s ‘silent witness’), who accompany Bo and Annabelle part way on their journey, like premonitions of the future.

Who is ‘the ruling caste’ in Journey to the Stone Country? Who are the barbarians? The power imbalance is implicit – whites dominated, at least in the recent past. Miller doesn’t write his indigenous characters as victims. Nor is he blind to the physical and social havoc caused by white presumptions of mastery and the alienation of Aboriginal lands. But his novel is also a register of change, and of the human and political complexities and ironies of twenty-first-century circumstances. When Bo, Annabelle, Trace, and Arner come to a temporary rest in the edenic Ranna valley, with its great derelict station homestead (the house where Bo’s grandmother was taken as a child to live with the white Bigges family), they enjoy some sunlit days of pastoral calm. But the Ranna valley is scheduled to be flooded, its splendour obliterated. The ‘real-life Ranna’ is also threatened. (Miller, who says he ‘loves to bring people and places out of the silence’, makes a rueful comparison between Tasmania’s famous Franklin and this little-known, botanically rich, and equally beautiful Queensland treasure.) But threatened by whom? In the novel, the Ranna dam scheme is promoted as vigorously by the Jangga entrepreneur Les Marra as by his whitefella colleagues and backers. Marra breaks the travellers’ peace when he descends into the valley like a malevolent mosquito, whirring down in a helicopter and asserting his presence ‘as if he were the chevalier of a masterful order visiting his presence upon an outlying fiefdom of his domain’. Details, examples again. If Stone Country is a political novel, its politics are inscribed in the particulars, in the lives and actions of its protagonists.

‘The power imbalance is implicit – whites dominated, at least in the recent past’

Stone Country also has an Odyssean aspect: for Bo, Annabelle and for Miller himself, it is a return journey – and we know how different, even unsettling familiar things can be when we meet them again with fresh eyes. Annabelle, raw, and in retreat from a failed marriage to a Melbourne English scholar, is rediscovering her country, but she is also learning that her analytical habits, her Western yen to seek explanations for everything, will not serve her new circumstances. Nor will they help her fathom what is happening to her, or understand the man with whom she is falling in love, a man who is articulate yet who rations speech, and who has been taught by his magisterial grandmother to leave some mysteries intact.

Miller writes women with uncanny insight. Detail again. ‘How can he know that?’ I often wonder. He must watch. With Bo (and Dougald Gnapun), he writes out of long experience and a personal understanding of solitariness. He is fluent in Bo’s gestural language, ‘his hand sweeping the country before them like a radar beacon’. Miller is at ease with silence and can read it. He tells a story of his audience with the Queen: at a certain point, without prompting, he stood up and departed, with decorum. ‘How on earth did you know when to leave’ asked the equerry. ‘There was a little pause, and I read it as a sign.’

‘If Stone Country is a political novel, its politics are inscribed in the particulars, in the lives and actions of its protagonists’

Miller says that we are ‘an image species’. It’ is an odd claim from an unashamed wordsmith, but life, especially a working life spent amongst Aboriginal friends – ‘most of the time we didn’t say much, but we communicated all the time’ – has honed his senses to razor sharpness, and given him an extraordinary expressive repertoire, a perceptiveness and instinct that comprehends silence and doesn’t fret or flail in the face of mystery. Creative humility, you might call it, plus a craftsman’s savvy, all in the one writer.

Journey to the Stone Country, like Landscape of Farewell, is a novel that comes out of a specific Queensland landscape, one peopled by characters who are marked by their country and culture – details again, the examples that matter. But there is nothing regional or confined about Miller’s imaginative or intellectual reach. His sixth novel, like the five that preceded and the five that follow it, takes on the world as he finds it in a particular place, and gives it back to us with such penetration, such creative zest. ‘Write what you love’, a wise friend once counselled him. So Miller does, in lyrical and incisive ways, creating a world we can wonder at, as Annabelle does here:

In the blue haze of distance to the northwest the valley of the Bowen River spread out below them, a broad pastureland where herds of white Brahman cattle grazed the sweet natural grasses of the uplands and fertile riverflats. To their northwest another country, intimidating and vast, the folded ranges of Salitros and the Massey Gorge, a forested wilderness without dwellings or roads, no smoke or sign of habitation across the wide and undulating landscape of iridescent hills that lay glittering in the morning sun below them. Bo’s indicating hand going out. ‘Ranna’s way over there.’

She looked and wondered at the beauty and mystery of her own country.

References

Dixon, Robert, ed. The Novels of Alex Miller: An Introduction, Allen & Unwin, 2012.
Dixon, Robert. Alex Miller: The Ruin of Time, Sydney University Press, 2014.
Walker, Brenda. Alex Miller: The Ruin of Time', Australian Book Review, December 2014.
Stretton, Andrea. 'Journey to the Stone Country', Sydney Morning Herald, 16 November 2002.
Fraser, Morag. 'Lovesong', Sydney Morning Herald, December 2009.
Fraser, Morag. 'Alex Miller's indispensable new novel', Australian Book Review, October 2011.
Author conversation with Alex Miller, 14 April 2015. All quotations from Miller, unless otherwise acknowledged, are from this conversation.

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Thursday, 24 May 2012 06:05

Alex Miller and a craving for mythos

Jane Goodall

 

The Novels of Alex Miller: An Introduction
edited by Robert Dixon
Allen & Unwin, $39.99 pb, 268 pp, 9781742378640

 

As creative writing programs continue to surge in popularity, it has become something of an uphill battle to recruit students for literature courses in universities. In an environment overstocked with would-be writers fixated on the image of a potential publisher whose own field of vision is a mass of BookScan figures, a collection of critical essays on a literary writer has something of an ambassadorial role to play. Can those who profess an interest in books and writing be persuaded that there is value in complex engagements with context and tradition, form, and theme?

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Not since Marguerite Yourcenar’s classic Memoirs of Hadrian (1951) have I encountered a novel of such bravura intensity and insight into the jagged contours of the human heart.

Autumn Laing opens with a mercurial soliloquy. Over eighteen shimmering pages, the novel’s eponymous heroine draws scarcely a breath as, in a soul-scouring torrent, spanning a lifetime while skewering the moment, she conjures the characters who are ‘seething in her brain’. Autumn parades her dramatis personae of lovers and artists, loathed family, and beloved friends. She struts her many selves: Cleopatra and crone, artist’s muse and scourge, Sybil and hysteric, moral vagabond and seeker after redemption. Haunted by her own mortality and resurgent remorse, she brandishes Tennyson: Let me shrive me clean, and die.

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  • Custom Article Title Morag Fraser reviews 'Autumn Laing' by Alex Miller
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  • Biblio Allen & Unwin, $39.99 hb, 464 pp, 9781742378510