Sean Rabin was recently in Hobart for the launch of his new book, Wood Green. Here is my interview with him and below, a review of the book.
Wood Green is a novel with a magnificent twist, a ripper story and some very familiar scenery.
Michael arrives in Hobart to take up a job with an aging, irascible writer, Lucian Clarke who lives up Mt Wellington in the hamlet of Wood Green. Michael has a PhD into the work of this writer, who has lived up the mountain for longer than he can remember, returning home after interludes of dancing the light fantastic of an international literary lifestyle. He has employed Michael to help him remember his affairs, to order his books and life, and assist with the completion of his latest novel.
Michael is a writer himself, and he pursues the writing of his novel, as he is pursued by the girlfriend he abruptly left in Sydney. Rachel tracks him down in Hobart and comes to visit. She is one of the many smaller but still exquisitely drawn characters who plump out this narrative and her sharp Sydney ways draw Michael’s deepening into the experience of living up the mountain, into sharper relief.
There is also Andrew, the proprietor of the quaint and coddled b and b in Battery Point. He is both highly strung and sinister as he bumbles his way around his visitors. We get insight into his thoughts and an eerie analysis of his guests through his neurotic mind. Carl the South African is fleeing an unmentioned white collar crime and his crimes are not known in Wood Green, where he buys the shop, after Maureen and Tim, whose marriage is decaying, finally close the sale. All these are characters who help build this novel to its curious crescendo.
The book has many pathways through the woods, all of them coming back to the same, unexplored path of the lives of Lucian and Michael. It is a book compelling both by the staggered introduction of clues to the story itself, as well as by the rich pickings that Rabin has delivered in terms of a cast of well-drawn, unique and believable secondary characters.
Let go of your expectations for a single narrative, this book is woven of many human lives and has the most exquisite sound track too. Eclectic, diverse albums are introduced throughout the pages, and it is worth seeking the sounds out as you read. It becomes a sensory experience, it deepens the reading experience, which is already rich from characters, as well as from descriptions of place.
This is also a book that provides a commentary to what it means to be a reader and what it means to be a writer. It talks about the desire on the part of the author for immutability, and more pertinently for the reader familiar with the setting, it talks about the “thick syrup of familiarity” when it comes to ‘the real’. It successfully interrogates the beast that is the novel, that is fiction and it also plays most marvelously with the notion of what it means to be a writer.
Wood Green is a successful first novel and it tells a ripper yarn. Readers who know Hobart, who know kunanyi/Mt Wellington are also in for a treat; to read known places in a work of literature always deepens a sense of place.
Variations of this review will be published in The Mercury, June 2016 and Warp, July 2016
(Wood Green by Sean Rabin, Giramondo, 9781925336085)