Posted by: Lisa Hill | May 7, 2014

Opening Lines: A Horse of Air (1970), by Dal Stivens

A Horse of AirI like to post the book cover of the original first edition of Miles Franklin winners in this series of Opening Lines, but it can’t be done: until I can get my hands on the 1970 Angus and Robertson edition, I’ll have to make do with the 1986 Penguin edition which I borrowed from the Campaspe Regional Library through inter-library loan. The cover art is by Ken Done.

Dal Stivens won the Miles Franklin for this unusual novel, described by the blurbers as

‘A brilliant novel, intensely moving, stimulating and puzzling…’  (P.J. Rainey, The Bush Telegraph), and
‘Stivens’ master work…zestful, witty and intellectually first class…one of the few Australian novels in which artistic and intellectual triumph are one and the same thing’. (D.R. Burns, Nation Review)

But there’s not a word about him on the Miles Franklin Past Winners website, and apart from a curious homage on You Tube, a brief bio at Wikipedia, and the helpful coverage of the novels, A Horse of Air; The Unicorn and Other Tales and The Demon Bowler and Other Cricket Stories at Middlemiss,  Stivens has very little presence on the web.

Well, ANZ LitLovers has done what it can.  You can read my review of A Horse of Air, and below, you can read the Opening Lines from Chapter One.  (Visit Middlemiss for the Opening Lines of the ‘Editor’s’ Preface.)

My big trouble is that I’ve never grown up.  At fifty I ought to know better, but the psychiatrist annoys me.  He knows all the answers.  ‘Now, we want to get to the bottom of this, he says.  His tongue – I notice it is furred – runs over his lips.  But I don’t care whether we ever get to the bottom of it.  He sits there beaming at me.  he should be selling motor-cars in Parramatta Road; he has the same persuader look you see in public relations men and priests.  He is a thick-set man with a smallish, round reptilian head, but with big lips and moist brown eyes.  I puzzle over what he reminds me of – a Centralian bluetongue (Tiliqua occipitalis multifasciata Sternfeld)? ‘If you shot this strange man, you must know why,’ he insisted today.  I said: ‘I often get impulses to do something outrageous.  I don’t always know the reasons.’  I was thinking of one night at a party when I got drunk and tried to stake out my territory the way a dog does.  There was a reason, but I didn’t discover it until later.

Dal Stivens, A Horse of Air, Penguin, 1986, p. 1




  1. Brilliant opening lines. ‘The psychiatrist annoys me’ and ‘if you shot this strange man’ are great teasers.


    • I was certainly lured into reading onward!


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