Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Autumn Laing by Alex Miller

A while ago I wrote about the satisfaction of putting things into order, of quantifying and labelling them. Well, here I will attempt something that I have meant to do for a very long time: I will choose one book every month that I loved reading and will try to explain why I did love it. And thus I will hopefully save it from disappearing in that big pile of all the other books and movies and newspaper articles and websites that I really wanted to remember; the ones that moved and inspired me and that somehow fell between the cracks in the mysterious landscape of my mind...

This is a book about being old. It is a book about being young and immortal. It is a book about art, about jealousy and passion, about women and about Australia. Autumn Laing tells her story, beginning, 'They are all dead, and I am old and skeleton-gaunt. This is where it began fifty-three years ago.' Doesn't this alone make you want to sit back and read on? Oh, the power of words, drawing you in and creating a world just for you to discover!

Autumn Laing is young and beautiful. It is the late 1930s in Melbourne, and she is married to kind and gentle Arthur. Theirs is a quiet and comfortable marriage. They have a circle of artistic, bohemien friends who come to their house to eat, drink copious amounts of red wine and discuss art and poetry. They are trying to invent an Australian version of the European modernism and argue about aesthetics, philosophy and ethics. Their lifes change when Autumn meets and subsequently seduces Pat Donlon, a promising and hot-headed young artist. He is married to lovely and innocent Edith, who is pregnant with their first child. The book shifts between the unfolding story and the present, where Autumn is dying, bad-tempered and armed with a sharp tongue. She is looking back with regret and longing and eventually is able to find some kind of peace and closure.

Alex Miller is an amazingly skilled writer. His style seems effortless, but is so confident and elegant in providing first only glimpses of the story and the characters that inhabit it and subsequently weaving all the threads together into a rich and colourful tapestry. Miller lets Autumn talk and gives her a truly unique voice. I tried to slow down my reading towards the end, and I really missed her after finishing the story. In fact, I'm still thinking of her as someone I knew and who has recently died. The power of words...

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