Friday, November 8, 2013

Coal Creek

I am reading a lot of Australian/NZ books now, as I am finally getting to pulling together the 'big book' on Australian literature I have been planing for years. From Eleanor Catton's Booker Prize-winning The Luminaries (which I suspect I will report on later, my initial verdict, after admittedly reading only 100 pages, is mixed) to Eye of the Storm which I have wanted to reread ever since seeing the film. But I doubt any book I read this fall will be able to surpass Alex Miller's Coal Creek. I have been an admirer of Miller's fiction since The Ancestor Game, and find each new book from him a revelation, especially Conditions of Faith, with its re-writing of the Australian female Bildungsroman, the moving Lovesong, and Journey to the Stone Country, which manages to break out of the white writer addressing Aboriginal themes'; straitjacket through  a sense of radical love and courage. He has already been the object of much academic work, but is underappreciated in the US, although very highly esteemed in the UK and Europe.
       Coal Creek is at one a heart-rending novel one feels compelled to read one or two sittings and a thought-provoking narrative that raises profound ethical questions about loyalty, redemption, and forgiveness. In the voice of Bobby Blue, Miller has accomplished the astonishing feat of folding the inarticulate into the articulate, showing how somebody who thinks he does not have the words to express himself nonetheless can make himself, and his sense of love, beauty, and suffering, resonate. Vividly set in the stone country of rural Central Queensland, a couple of generations ago, this is an Australian evocation of some of the same preoccupations and convictions American writers such as Faulkner and Steinbeck tried to express. Miller is that rare writer at once able to register how nuances of class and regional difference inflect people’s life-choices, while also having confidence in the capacity of the human soul to circumvent these worldly definitions. Though the latest of a series of impressive novels Miller  has produced, Coal Creek is definitely the best place for a newcomer to Miller’s vision to begin. Miller avoids the pitfalls of much contemporary Australian writing (preciosity, pretentiousness, a desire to please, careerism) because he writes with integrity and a deep intelligence. He is one of the few contemporary writers who can measure 'art' and 'life' with equal seriousness as practices and as themes, and he is rapidly moving into the Nobel Prize-worthy territory we have examined previously on this blog;; indeed, Alex Miller would be an exceedingly worthy Nobel Prize winner. Indeed, although very different in sensibility and personality than Patrick White, in a sense he is the Australian writer today who has most continued White's dual missions, of creating difficult art and advocating, evne at times in the teeth of the evidence, human dignity. 

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