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I’m Ready Now

Column: Literature In Review   |   Date Published: Tuesday, 4 December 12   |   Author: Allan Sko   |   4 years, 6 months ago

     Nigel Featherstone [Novella/Blemish Publishing; 2012]

I’m Ready Now
Nigel Featherstone
[Novella/Blemish Publishing; 2012]

‘A powerful yet gentle narrative that grabs you and holds you till the end.’

So appear the words of revered local writer Marion Halligan across the cover of Goulburn/Canberra writer Nigel Featherstone’s latest novella, I’m Ready Now, and I’m not here to argue with such a lofty scribe.

If anything, I would humbly venture altering the sequence of the words thusly: ‘A gentle yet powerful narrative that holds you and grabs you till the end.’

I have always likened a good novella to a wave; only short in duration, the energy gradually swells and builds until, finally, its expectation crashes in a foamy tumult.

This is the nature of Featherstone’s work. It is initially unassuming. Gentle. Introducing you to characters and scenarios you may very well be familiar with that are gradually scratched away to reveal powerful human undercurrents.

In this case the narrative revolves around the reunion of mother (Lynne Gleeson) and son (Gordon) upon the death of the former’s husband and the latter’s step-father. The timid Lynne needs to reconnect with her somewhat estranged son to tell him of her big plans. Gordon meanwhile is 11 months into his Year of Living Dangerously, a drugs ‘n’ booze ‘n’ boys-filled odyssey that purports to be a journey of self-discovery that may turn out to be just that for all the wrong reasons. The novella is about this conflict; this attempt at reconciliation which simply can’t be articulated because old paths and old wounds have been set.

It is masterful in its execution.

This is not high impact, flashy narrative. It doesn’t need to be. So delicately does Featherstone introduce the nuances of his characters and the incidents in their lives that – despite their simplicity – you are drawn in, eager to learn how these flawed and real characters fare. It doesn’t end in a walloping climax or the decisive nature of a bullet but with a simple yet life-changing decision. Just like life.

This is a perfect companion piece to Featherstone’s previous novella, Fall On Me, and both prove the man has a commanding grip on the short form. Both illustrate his greatest writing asset: empathy for his characters. If there’s any criticism to be had it is perhaps that, at times, we’re told a little too explicitly what is on a character’s mind rather than allowing the reader to decide. This is a ‘perhaps’ because others will find the same sections an enthralling insight into a character’s mindset.

But this is a minor quibble that shouldn’t put off a reader from this gentle and eventually powerful narrative. I have now read both of Featherstone’s novellas in one sitting and – considering the borderline ADD nature of yours truly – this is lofty praise indeed.

 

ALLAN SKO

Cloud Atlas: David Mitchell [Sceptre; 2004]

Cloud Atlas
David Mitchell
[Sceptre; 2004]

If nothing else, David Mitchell's ambitious novel proves his ability as a writer of prose. Cloud Atlas consists of six separate stories, each unique and diverse in terms of voice, style and content, loosely linked via a reincarnation thread and a few thematic phrases; the author dwells at length on civilisation and barbarism, capitalism and the concept of ownership, and what it means to be human.

Each individual section of the book is wonderful, totally complete within itself. There’s the diary of a naïve young notary touring the colonised Pacific in the 1800s; a series of letters from a troubled composer in the ‘20s; a ‘70s political thriller novel set at a nuclear power plant; a slapstick comedy-of-errors as a retired vanity publisher tries to escape from the nursing home in which he has been incarcerated; and then to the future, the tale of a cloned slave turned freedom fighter in a terrifyingly capitalist Korea.

The centre of the novel is the tale of Zachry, a member of one of the few remaining pockets of humanity following some terrible worldwide calamity and how even that last vestige of civilisation descends into chaos and infighting.

The first five stories break off halfway through their narratives – in some cases, halfway through a sentence – building up to Zachry’s story, after which the rest are completed in unexpected and often unsatisfying ways. Each story after the first mentions reading or watching or hearing about the story before it. There’s a suggestion of a reincarnation plotline that’s never really taken any further than subtext; the ambiguity works for the subject matter. Even so, the thematic elements may take a few re-reads to sink in and the links between the stories are more about concept than plot.

In the hands of a less accomplished writer, this all could have gone terribly, terribly awry and turned gimmicky. Even though Mitchell clearly knows what he’s doing, Cloud Atlas does occasionally slip over into Authorial Soapbox mode, but, for the most part, the plot does the telling and the message is applied with a light hand.

It’s a thoughtful, meta-textual, densely ambitious work. It’s also enjoyably readable – once you get past all the wankery – genuinely funny, moving and stylistically unique. Each of the individual sections is a novel unto itself, but the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

 

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