Survival: A Novella. Available March 2018.

#Nike Sulway

Review: Dying in the First Person by Nike Sulway

My brother was seven minutes older than me; seven minutes after he died, I passed into a future he had refused. Nobody in the world could speak with me now. Nobody knew those languages, those histories, like we did. I waited for someone to tell me what I should say, what I should do with what was left of my life now that he was gone. Nobody could tell me how to carry on.

For many years twin brothers Samuel and Morgan had been separated by an ocean. But even before then, a distance lived between the unknowable Morgan and his taciturn brother. As adults Morgan lived in Europe and Samuel at home in the Queensland bush. Samuel’s only contact with his brother was via his manuscripts that arrived by mail. The painstaking work of translating Morgan’ writing from Nahum, the language they invented as children, both consumes and inspires him. But now Morgan has died. Ana, the woman he was living with, agrees to carry his body home to Australia. With her she brings one final Nahum manuscript. And some startling revelations.

I have loved Nike Sulway’s prose since I read Rupetta. She has a gift for conjuring place and there is a quietness that inhabits her writing, a reflectiveness pulls you into it, that makes the story sing with a deep harmony just beneath the surface of the words. Dying in the First Person actually addresses some of the problems I had with Rupetta. In Rupetta it felt like Sulway’s mind was fevered. It was an expansive story, so many elements were mixed in there, and as a result I found it difficult to review, difficult to sum up what it was about despite the fact that I adored it. Dying in the First Person is far more intimate in focus. It follows Samuel’s grief, and his meditation on what it means to face someone’s death, the loss of someone’s unique words, what it means to communicate with a person in words, in language, and then to have them die. Samuel’s musings are slow and laboured and, by the end of the novel when he seems to accept his losses and find the way forward, Ana provides the coup de grace that upsets everything he thought he knew.

The last section is narrated by Ana and contains the “revelation” you read about on the back cover. And it is a startling passage, a short chapter really, that I read rapidly, breathlessly. It turned the novel into a house of cards, highlighted a level of uncertainty that comes with any relationship, any conversation, every investment into your assumptions about someone else. It is a wonderful, unsettling chapter to close the novel and I can’t discuss it in any great detail without ruining its affect on future readers, which is immensely unsatisfying but there you are.

In some ways, I missed the expansiveness of the Sulway’s Rupetta, I missed the big picture circling the intimate one. But that big picture is still there in Dying in the First Person. What could be bigger than life and death? It’s just woven through the text, through every word and sentence, and so gently, so deftly, that it’s almost out of focus. Sulway’s prose is rich but razor sharp, it cuts right to the heart of a thing, underlines it for further discussion, circles it some more before moving on. Somehow it’s both dreamy and incisive. A hugely enjoyable and strangely uplifting read.

Dying in the First Person, Nike Sulway: four and a half stars.

Publisher: Transit Lounge.

Published: May 1, 2016.

RRP: $29.95

What are you reading Wednesday

I read a great post by Lindsay Detwiler about ways in which her husband is her biggest supporter, though he doesn’t read her books. It started me thinking of the generosity of spirit that is needed and shown in an artistic community. So often the journey is a long and lonely one and any support, financial or otherwise, including just plain encouragement to keep going, is worth its weight in gold. Detwiler’s husband Chad is her very own advertiser, roadie and support crew and it’s great to read about the kind of background help people need in this profession.

Something I’ve really taken to heart is that books sell via word of mouth. It’s one of the reasons I started this site to begin with. I love reading, I love talking about reading, so I started a site where I could talk about books I love. I’ve been told that my talking up a literary journal where I had a story published inspired one of my twitter followers to take out a subscription and it was the best thing anyone had ever said to me. So talk it up. Whatever you’re reading, make sure twitter knows about it, mention the author by name, review the book on Goodreads or Amazon or wherever seems most relevant to you. These are the sparks in the dark that makes this feel like a community and not an empty room.

In that spirit I need to recommend two books that I will review when I’ve finished reading them, but am loving too much to wait until then. The Golden Legend by Nadeem Aslam is a simply beautiful novel, written in a vivid, poetic style. Set in contemporary Pakistan it follows architect Nargis who loses her husband to a stray bullet and her Christian neighbour Helen who falls in love with the mysterious Imran.  It feels like a novel that has slowed down, taken a breath, and really drawn the air in to its lungs. I was given a copy by publisher Allen & Unwin in exchange for a review, and it will be posted in the next week or so, but even before I’ve finished it I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Secondly, because I read more than one book at a time, I also have to recommend Nike Sulway’s Dying in the First PersonI’ve only read a little of this novel and already I’m stunned by its beauty. Sulway examines wonderfully complicated ideas in a simple by expansive written style. I was reading recently that some books feel like they were written for you, specifically to you. I read an article by Peter Bishop recently. Writing in the Griffith Review he says: “Reading is a matter of friendship, as music so often is. There are songs that are acquaintances, and we nod to them as we pass in the street – and there are songs that belong to us, and often we know this belonging from the moment we first hear them, and from then on we know them in our deepest selves, and we interpret our lives through their sound.” This feels like one of those books.

On an entirely different, and perhaps selfish note, the publisher of the Dark Magic anthology that I have a story in is running a readers’ choice prize. The winning author will receive a little cash and a super cool bobble-head owl. Go by and vote and you will go in the draw to win a prize pack. The anthology is available here. Leave a review if you read it.