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Wednesday, 21 June 2006

At Sarsaparilla and also on her own blog, Kerryn Goldsworthy has highlighted the paucity of fiction about real things in Australia at the moment. "Where, [journalist and historian David Marr] more or less asked, was the Australian Coetzee or McEwan?" She points out that he wanted "fiction about the conditions and the values of contemporary Australian life".

Overland, which blogger TimT says on Intersecting Lines is "not just leftish, it's far to the left of the Labor Party", has just posted a story by Anthony Macris on its Web site. It's about a young Australian man living in London in 1991, surrounded by the images and feelings of Operation Desert Storm. It also treats issues of consumerism and love. Macris' style is hypnotic: you are dragged into the consciousness of the main character inexorably, you see the evidence of consumer culture gone berserk, you wonder about the affair that might reveal itself if you travel with him to Brisbane.

This is fiction that addresses real issues. And his literary pedigree should work to attract readers. Macris was named by The Sydney Morning Herald as one of its Australian Best Young Novelists in 1998 and published Capital: Volume One in 1997. It's a good read for anyone who enjoys McEwan or Coetzee. Somewhere between Simon and Carey.

The Overland story is an excerpt from his upcoming book Capital: Volume One, Part Two. Here's a clip:

  A small crowd gathers around you in front of the television. You stand there watching, transfixed. The helicopter sequence ends. Suddenly you are on the ground, right in the thick of it. You all go together into the slaughter. The shots change frequently, indicating heavy editing. That’s all that’s left of the dead, these cuts from one image to the next. The camera studies the scene. It soon gets bored with vehicles riddled with bullet holes, with shattered axles and engines spilling from under bonnets like entrails. It turns its attention to the loot, begins to pick out ghoulish contrasts. There seems to be no lack of them. The top half of a washing machine, its bottom half torn away, rests on the sand next to a gleaming mortar shell, seemingly unspent. A car door, its paint blistered off, its window a drip of molten silicon, forms the backdrop to a carton of Marlboro, a bottle of Chanel N°5, and a large-scale model of a black racing car. A blackened, mangled heap of metal, the long gun barrel that rises up out of it indicating it used to be an artillery gun, has a large double mattress leaning against it, more or less intact. And on it goes. It soon becomes apparent that there’s virtually nothing the Iraqis haven’t tried to steal: power tools, air-conditioning units, entire racks of women’s dresses and men’s suits, cartons of washing powder, computers, stereos, VCRs, cots, prams, toys. Everywhere there are televisions. The editor of the report has saved these for last. The shots are so clear you can read the brand names: Panasonic, Sharp, NEC, and of course Sony, everywhere there are Sonys. Some of the televisions have their screens blown out, others are in perfect condition, lying there in the desert as if they were waiting to be turned on.
  The crowd around you has grown so large that a salesman comes over. He takes one look at the screen, then discreetly walks away. A few seconds later the channel changes. The desert highway is replaced by a young woman on the studio set of a kitchen. She’s wearing a tight, low-cut top. She beams and talks and shreds carrots. You feel a small shock go through the crowd, as if you’ve all just woken up from a deep trance. Everyone quickly disperses, and the buying mood immediately fills the store again. The man standing next to you, however, lingers a moment. He’s probably in his mid-fifties, judging from his long grey beard. “Bloody disgrace,” he mutters, half to you, half to the woman on the widescreen TV who leans forward to peep under a saucepan lid, at the same time offering you a generous helping of cleavage.
  You turn around and walk straight out of the store. Now doesn’t seem the time to get a Discman.

Another piece from the book is available on the Web site of the French journal le Passant Ordinaire.

Give him a try, tell us what you think.

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