Dying in the First Person by Nike Sulway – a tale of life, love and hope

Dying in the First Person Nkie SulwayAfter finishing Dying in the First Person by Nike Sulway, I felt as I did after reading Charlotte Wood’s The Natural Way of Things. I immediately wanted to talk to someone who had read the book. I wanted to share its insights about love and language, about the near-impossibility of finding the words to express the truth about human existence, our hopes and fears, dreams and desires.

Dying in the First Person is about adult twin brothers who, as children, created a world with a language of its own: Nahum. In this world, single men live on individual islands. At an appointed time, a son appears, brought by the sea or by a bird, and once the boy is grown, the man sails away, because the island cannot carry the burden of more than one man’s heart. With this imaginative world as a backdrop, Sulway weaves a tale of love and loss, of escaping and yearning, of remembering and deliberate forgetting. As a teenager, one of the twins, Morgan, grows wild. He leaves the confines of the boys’ suburban life with their bookseller mother, their father having died in circumstances that the story is slow to reveal. The other twin, Samuel, stays with the mother, and is only reconciled with his estranged brother years later through writing: he translates stories that he receives from Morgan, now based in the Netherlands. These stories, written in Nahum, earn Morgan an international following before his sudden death.

Into Samuel’s world steps Ana, his brother’s one-time lover, whom he lets stay in the cabin he built for his brother on his property in the subtropical Queensland bush. Samuel is challenged by this interloper and also by the mysterious markings in Morgan’s final work, eighteen new letters or words that appear to have no referent in the world he and his brother created. At the same time, he discovers his book-loving and unconventional mother is ill and, as her illness progresses, her ability to distinguish between him and his brother in her memories deteriorates.

Dying in the First Person is fable-like in its resonance, both emotionally and aesthetically. There is much to ponder on; particularly provocative are hints about the erasure of women’s identity and writing, as well as the complexities of writing from an “other” gendered position. While much of the story’s focus is on language, its subjects are life, love and the secrets and inadequacies that keep us, as individuals, apart from our loved ones. The story is about human faults, failings and frailties; it’s also about hope. Reading it, I was reminded of a prayer that helped me through a challenging time in my relationship: “Help me see this person as they really are, not who I want them to be, and not who I fear they might be.” In this novel, through language, through love and loss and hope, Sulway points a way.

~

Author: Nike Sulway

Title: Dying in the First Person
Publisher: Transit Lounge
ISBN: 978-0-9943958-3-2
Date of Publication: 01/05/16

This review forms part of my Australian Women Writers Challenge. My thanks to the publishers for a review copy.

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Suspense and thriller readers – where are you?

Hades Candice FoxOn Tuesday book bloggers from around Australia attended a “National Book Bloggers Forum” at the offices of Random House Australia (RHA) in North Sydney.

Digital gurus, editors and the RHA publicity team all pitched in. We were given insights about Search Engine Optimisation and how to use Google Analytics to drive relevant traffic to our blogs. We were told about up-and-coming titles and given a goodie bag full of books. Authors including Judy Nunn, Sneh Roy and Bruce McCabe spoke about their books and writing process. Throughout the day, Twitter was awash with the hashtag #NBBF14. In the breaks, and over a generous lunch, names, cards, twitter handles and blog URLs were swapped among participants.

I was especially interested in the pitches for thrillers, including Bruce McCabe’s debut Skinjob (in the goodie bag, so more of that another time) and Candice Fox’s forthcoming follow up to Hades, Eden.

Eden – no cover available – was introduced by publisher Beverley Cousins. Cousins pitched Fox as an “Australian Gillian Flynn”. I’m not convinced of that. Cousins was once editor for the Nicci French writing duo – from memory, she worked on Secret Smile, one of the creepiest of the NF books. To me, that’s a closer fit with Fox and Hades. (If you’ve read my reviews of Hades, Flynn’s Gone Girl, and my discussion of Nicci French’s writing,  you’ll know what I mean.) Maybe Eden will be different.

In the open forum at the end, I asked whether there were any other bloggers who review crime and suspense novels. Only one person put up her hand, Debbish from Debbishdotcom. Most of the others, I think, specialise in YA and teen fiction, although I did come across a “vlogger” who reads classics, and there were at least two who specialise in nonfiction.

So where are all the crime fiction readers/bloggers? Maybe they all live in Melbourne?

And, while we’re at it, where were all the men? There were only two men among 35+ bloggers, a gender imbalance that caused Bruce McCabe to comment, “Who are the real readers out there? Spend one minute in this room and you’ll know.”

Do you read crime, thrillers and/or suspense fiction?

Bruce McCabe addresses National Book Bloggers Forum 2014

Bruce McCabe addresses National Book Bloggers Forum 2014 – photo courtesy of Dymmocks Books

 

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