Posted by: Lisa Hill | May 9, 2012

The Hum of Concrete, by Anna Solding

The Hum of ConcreteThe Hum of Concrete is the debut novel of Anna Solding, originally from Sweden but now well settled in Adelaide.  The novel was shortlisted for the 2010 Unpublished Manuscript Award at the Festival Awards for Literature, published this year by a new venture called Midnight Sun Publishing and launched at the Adelaide Writers Week.  The book comes with endorsements from no less than Nobel Laureate J.M. Coetzee and from Brian Castro (who I think deserves to be a Nobel Laureate too).

The author’s style features precise and clever imagery, from the terse: ‘Thursday snails along’ (p117) to the vivid:  ‘A week in the life of a butterfly is endless fluttering but a week in the life of two human beings who know they must part is shorter than the flight from one flower to the next’ (p120).  The writing is at its best when realising the Swedish city of Malmö and its seasons, the parks and skating-rinks full of families and the underbelly of homelessness and exploitation.  (There are gorgeous little illustrations created by the author’s husband at the beginning of each chapter, which help to bring this unfamiliar city alive too.)

Although it’s set in a city not a village, The Hum of Concrete reminded me of my recent reading of Scenes from Village Life by Amos Oz because of the structure of the novel.  Characters, seemingly isolated from one another, find their lives intersecting.  Like the pulse of the city, the novel has a stop-start rhythm as in fleeting glimpses we meet characters who then disappear for a while with issues unresolved.  This fracturing is exacerbated by the way Solding varies the narrative voice, starting with a second-person account of tobogganing in the snow.  But it’s a risky technique because it relies on the reader patiently suspending expectations.  I admire this authorial risk-taking, especially in a debut novel, but the timing of connections between these jigsaw pieces may not suit every reader.

The novel has a youthful feel: the dialogue of adolescents and young adults is especially vivid; their preoccupations feel authentic.  Challenging any preconceived ideas about the cool, reserved Swede, events trace these preoccupations: relationships and the need to belong; status within peer groups; parents as ‘bystanders of life’; you don’t/can’t understand as a motif; and negotiating risk-taking.   There is a less successful episode involving a Muslim mother discovering her adolescent son’s porn collection: her bizarre response seems inauthentic and disconnected from the rest of the story.  It’s as if the author is determined to teach her character (or her readers?) a lesson about sexuality whether or not it’s consistent with that character’s nature (as established by the author).   Other older characters confront dilemmas and find themselves challenged to take risks too, but there is a scantiness about the way these are resolved.  This is especially true of Bodil’s determination to stay single and free.  This fascinating character deserves a novel of her own!

Reading The Hum of Concrete, I was reminded of the words of Alec Pillar, the English teacher who taught me always to ask myself, ‘What am I trying to say?’ and ‘How am I trying to say it?’  Well, in The Hum of Concrete, there are numerous issues explored in fragments: gender identity, immigrant angst, family breakdown and reunion, pregnancy and motherhood, and the writer’s life.  But despite the often beautiful prose and engaging characterisation, there were times when I was puzzled about what the author’s intentions were and why the novel was written in this particular way.

Author: Anna Solding
Title: The Hum of Concrete
Publisher: Midnight Sun Publishing 2012
ISBN: 9780987226501
Source: Review copy of Wakefield Press.

Availability:
Fishpond: The Hum of Concrete
Or direct from Wakefield Press


Responses

  1. […] The Hum of Concrete, Anna Solding (MidnightSun Publishing) (see my review) […]

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