Pretension and self-absorption

Macauley demon

Wayne Macauley writes Australian fiction that has a slightly mythical quality to it, and in this sense one could compare it to Tim Winton’s Cloudstreet, which also heads in the direction of Marquez’s magical realism. It’s slightly dreamy, slightly unreal. Macauley’s fiction has scenarios that take the absurdities of suburbia to extremes. Interestingly though, Macauley’s prose is a long way from Winton’s. For example, Winton’s latest novel contains a description of waking: “He peeled back the lids with a gospel gasp”. It’s this sort of writing that perhaps is the reason Winton polarises readers. Some may see this as cleverly poetic. Others – I suspect Macauley would be one of them – would roll their eyes at such displays of florid craft. This is not to say Winton’s fiction is no good. Clearly he is a remarkable writer. The point is simply that Australian sounding fiction, of which Macauley and Winton would be prime candidates, can vary widely.

Macauley captured a unique voice in The Cook. His latest novel Demons (Text Publishing), a dark satire of middle class pretension and self-absorption that takes its title from Dostoyevsky’s prophetic novel, has an economic quality to the writing. Characters only give up their opinions in a superficial, dinner-party kind of way, and yet part of Macauley’s cleverness is to get across the message in such spare terms. The novel is also a vehicle (in a Canterbury Tales kind of way) for delivering more of his short stories, which, each in their own way, tell of the difficulties in escaping from a deadening urban lifestyle. Like the European writers who are his heroes – Musil, Chekhov, etc. – he skewers bourgeois vapidity, and while this can be something of a cliché for left-leaning novelists, it may well be a vital message in these times of individualism driven by governments that are becoming ever more bolder in showing their contempt for those they clearly consider society’s losers.

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