Monday, December 1, 2014

Wayne Macauley's Demons. Surely one of the best Australian novels of 2014.

Wayne Macauley's previous novel, The Cook, published in 2012was extraordinary in every way. I absolutely loved it. It was resonant with meaning on multiple levels and the evil it depicted was as exquisite as the food its affluent, urban characters consumed. 

In his new novel Demons Macauley deepens and broadens his focus beyond skewering the morally bankrupt inner city creative and professional elites. Their vacuous lifestyle, prejudices and beliefs are a bit too easy a target, so he moves well beyond that to engage in a more philosophical rumination about the shared social fabric that sustains us and the destructive forces that can bring it undone.

A group of well off, middle aged friends go away to a large isolated house for a weekend, without phones and computers. They of course take plenty of gourmet food and wine, and they take it in turn to tell stories about real people and their fates. These stories, all fascinating and dramatic, are the heart of the book and its meaning. All but one of the half a dozen or so stories are true and have death at their centre. (The one that is not true doesn't). 

Macauley exposes the deep and dark abyss - the 'dirty great gaping hole' - under the necessary courtesies, protocols and basic moralities of our social construct. By breaching these necessary constraints we descend not just into an immoral decadence but into chaos and madness. This is a very Australian theme. (It also underpins, incidentally, every Stanley Kubrick film, which is why they are so visceral and powerful).

Macauley also reflects on the nature of stories as bonding narratives, providing meaning, order and community, and whether 'truth' can be as destructive as physical assault if it's simply a reckless indulgence.

Australian literary critic James Ley has a long and very positive review of this novel in the latest issue of the Sydney Review of Books (here), but unfortunately he offers a fairly limited psychological/sociological reading and doesn't go to the deeper moral and metaphysical dimension. He also sees it as generational, claiming the young daughter of the politician is some sign of a more hopeful and responsible generation to come. Nothing could be further from the truth. She's as destructive and morally cold as her parents, using cruel trolling as her modern weapon.

So what we have here is one of the best Australian novels of 2014. It is superb.   

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