His beauty and aloofness disturbed the equilibrium of the Rankin family…The stockman for a long time offered a resistance to the members of the family to involve him in their lives. He moved about in their familiar world, observing it with unfamiliar eyes; and quietly, industriously he slowly rearranged it
On a remote Queensland station a stockman fresh from England lives side by side with the station owner and his family, but remains apart. He works hard to clear up projects left unfinished by Ward Rankin, the owner, but resists efforts by Rankin to form a closer bond. Rankin is a disappointed man, forced into the role of station owner by the death of his father. He sees in the stockman Robert a possible friend. His wife, Ida, is also disappointed. Married to an older man out of convenience rather than any real connection, she sees in Robert a possible soulmate, and hope for a release from her discontent. Their daughter Janet also wants something from Robert. Only their son Alistair wants nothing. He sees in the stockman a threat, and watches and waits.
Robert Crofts wants nothing from this family. He goes about his work, seemingly unaware of the tension around him, until a growing attraction between him and Ida sets in chain a sequence of events which will change all of their lives.
Watching the Climbers on the Mountain is a tale of passion and reinvention. Set in the steamy height of summer, the oppressiveness of the weather reflects the building tension amongst the characters. The characters are not likable, each flawed in their own way, but they are intriguing, and the reader is drawn to keep wondering where all of this tension will lead.
First published in 1988, Watching the Climbers on the Mountain has been re-released, inviting fresh discovery.
Watching the Climbers on the Mountain, by Alex Miller
Allen & Unwin, 2012
Available from good bookstores or online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.
Pat was never deep. He was intuitive, but he was not deep. It was I who was deep. I who was left on my own to struggle with the fearful knots and tangles of our vicious web, while he sailed on on clean air, free of self-doubt, painting his pictures as if they were his alone to paint.
As Autumn Laing reaches the final months of her long life, she thinks back to the man she loved fifty-three years ago. From her first meeting with struggling artist Pat Donlon, Autumn was determined to make a difference to his life – but at the same time turned both of their lives upside down. Falling into an affair, Autumn not only tarnishes her previous stable, happy marriage, but Pat, too, destroys his new marriage, losing his wife and unborn child. As she waits to die, Autumn remembers her time with Pat. Now a cantankerous d woman, she seeks some sort of redemption in writing down the story.
Told using a blend of first person narrative (both present and past tense) and third person narrative (with Autumn recounting events as she imagines they may have happened in her absence) this is much more than a story of an affair, being more an examination of truth, and how it is constructed. Autumn may be cranky and downright unpleasant, but there is something very likeable about her, making you want to know more about her both as she was and is she is now, an old woman trying to tell her tale before she dies.
Inspired by, but only partly based on, artist Sidney Nolan and his muse Sunday Reed, Autumn Laing is a rich, intense tale.
Autumn Laing, by Alex Miller
Allen & Unwin, 2011
This book can be purchased in good bookstores, or online from Fishpond.
She said nothing to his earnestness, his desire to impress her with his belief, his urgent need to acknowledge between them a binding commitment. She was thrilled to hear it on his lips. But it was too much. It was too soon. It weighted her down. She wanted to hear it and she didn’t want to hear it. What she wanted was to laugh with him. To run and play and hide with him, the way children play and hide and tease each other.
Sabiha is content working in their small Tunisian cafe in Paris, serving their regular clientele of North African immigrant workers. But when an Australian tourist stumbles upon the cafe, her world begins to change. Soon deeply in love, the pair are married and John becomes part of Sabiha’s world. All that will complete their happiness is for Sabhia to bear the child she has always known she will have. But when the child does not come, a tragic series of events unfolds.
In Australia several years later, an aging writer, Ken, meets the couple and their young daughter at the cafe they open in Carlton. Ken is intrigued by the family, and especially by the sorrow he sees in Sabiha’s eyes, and is drawn into their story when John seeks him out as a confidante.
Lovesong is a beautiful story of love, loss and passion. Interwoven with Sabiha and John’s story are glimpses of Ken’s story, past and present. As the title suggests, the story is a smooth as one of the songs which Sahiba sings to her customers, carrying readers through the years and twists of the story and leaving them thinking long after the final note is sung.
Lovesong, by Alex Miller
Allen & Unwin, 2009
‘I’m the only one left who knows the truth of what happened. If it’s not written down the truth of it will be lost when I die. It was told to me by my grandfather. It was his own father, my own great-grandfather, who did these things and told him of them. No one else is left who knows the truth of it but me.’
After the death of his wife, German academic Max Otto figures his life is close to over. He will say his goodbyes and then he’ll end it. But when he meets Vita McLelland, an academic visiting from Australia, Max finds himself faced with new issues to sort out before he ends his life.
His friendship with Vita takes him to Australia, where he stays in a remote township with Vita’s uncle Dougald Gnapun. Like Max, Dougald has some unfinished business. He needs to tell the story of his great grandfather, and to go back to visit his country. The two men form a strong bond as together they face their pasts and their own limitations.
Landscape of Farewell is a story of reconciliation, between past and present, between young and old and between black and white. Max has often wondered at the history of his own country and especially his father’s involvement in the German army, and finds parallels between his own past and that of Dougald, whose people were involved in a massacre in Australia. In helping Dougald to tell his story. Max becomes more able to confront his own.
Like all of Miller’s work, this is a deeply moving novel which will leave the reader with much to ponder.
Landscape of Farewell, by Alex Miller
Allen & Unwin, 2007
This book can be purchased online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.
Since the sudden death of his father, Toni Powlett has been unable to draw or to paint. His father was the inspiration for his art – the mentor who had taught him to love art for art’s sake.
Now, four years later, Toni finds inspiration again, through an unexpected source. Marina Golding, the wife of his former art teacher, makes contact when she and her husband return to Melbourne after a lengthy absence. Marina becomes the inspiration for a new set of drawings and paintings – The Marina Suite. Full of the passion for art, Toni loses track of other parts of his life. He forgets to collect his daughter from kinder, and his relationship with his wife becomes increasingly strained as he spends more and more time with Marina.
This is a story about an artist, but it also, importantly, an exploration of the struggle to balance art with life, of creative urges with domestic necessities. Powlett – who, in the course of the story resumes his parents’ real surname, Prochownik – is a talented artist who struggles to achieve this balance. At the story’s beginning he is a devoted father and husband, but as the story progresses he risks his marriage and his relationship with his young daughter as he rediscovers his artistic flair.
This is an absorbing read, with a depth which causes the reader to ponder its subtleties long after the story is finished.
Prochownik’s Dream, by Alex Miller
Allen & Unwin, 2005
Finding her once-predictable, stable marriage in tatters, Annabelle flees to the security of her family home in Townsville and the support of an old friend. Invited on an archeological survey she meets Bo, a man who tells her they have met before and hints that he knows much about her.
As they get to know each other, Annabelle is disconcerted by Bo’s suggestion that he holds the key to her future. At the same time she is drawn to him in a way she has not been drawn to any other man.
Together the pair travel through places and memories which lead towards understading of themselves and each other, but at the same time threatens their possible happiness.
Whilst romance and landscape each play a part here, Journey to the Stone Country is about much more. The stone country traversed by the book’s characters is not just a part of remote Australia, but an inner landscape which we all must travel and explore. It is a story of our own time – of accepting our past – individual and collective, of moving toward a combined future. A story about racial differences and common ground. It is a story for every Australian.
Alex Miller was born in London and came to Australia when he was seventeen. His previous works have included the Ancestor Game (1997) which won the Miles Franklin Award, and the Commonwealth Writers Prize, and Conditions of Faith (2000), which won the Christina Stead Prize for Fiction.
Journey to the Stone Country, by Alex Miller
Allen & Unwin, 2002.