Here in Melbourne we had a feast of festivals last weekend: the inaugural Melbourne Jewish Writers’ Festival; the Williamstown Literary Festival, and the Emerging Writers Festival (which is still running until June 6th). These festivals are all dear to my heart, but the EWF especially so, because it celebrates the work of debut authors. The next generation of Australian writers!
ANZ LitLovers is pleased to be able to bring you a scoop from the EWF because – even as I write this – the winners of the Seizure Viva La Novella Prize are being announced at the festival. And thanks to the initiative of one of them, I have an advance copy of the book, and can tell you how good it is:)
Julie Proudfoot has published fiction, poetry and non-fiction works in journals, but The Neighbour is her first published book. A novella of 204 pages, it is a gripping tale of a life gone horribly wrong. It begins with a perfectly ordinary scene in domestic suburbia, but a tragedy unhinges all the characters one way or another, especially the central character, Luke. Haunted by the childhood death of his brother, Luke tangles guilt and responsibility and tries desperately to prove to himself that he’s not a bad man.
I won’t spoil the powerful impact of Luke’s transgressions by telling you what they are, but I can tell you that you won’t be able to put the book down. Julie draws on her background in psychology and sociology to render events with extraordinary authenticity:
Ryan shifts his feet again, sways a bit, then looks away. He seems to struggle with his own thoughts. He raises his hands in a gesture of helplessness, but doesn’t say anything.
Luke reaches out and grabs Ryan’s shoulder. ‘Do you get it? I can fix it, let me fix it all.’
Ryan wrenches his shoulder from Luke. ‘What are we talking about here, Luke? Lily? You can’t bring her back no matter what you do.’ Ryan half-turns away from him, and speaks to the air. ‘You need help,’ he whispers. ‘Get off my property, and don’t come back.’
Luke smiles. He realises they’re both preaching what they know to be the truth, and will never agree, Of course he can’t bring Lily back, but he won’t forget that he owes them.
‘I get it,’ Luke says. He takes his ladder from the house and steps around Ryan and leaves.
As he climbs back over the fence, he can feel Ryan watching him. It’s going to be tough. Ryan will fight it. He knows this, but they’ll thank him in the end. They don’t even know what they need right now. He’ll get them all back on track. Ryan and Angie need never be aware of it. (p. 83)
It is these insights into Luke’s disturbed mind that makes this book so compelling. Although occasionally we see things from the perspective of Angie, the one that Luke most wants to ‘help’, most of the novella is written from his point-of-view, revealing the deterioration of his state-of-mind and the strange way that he interprets events and interactions and how that impacts on his other relationships. No one can get through to him. Of all the nightmare scenarios I can think of, having a neighbour who’s a stalker would have to be one of the worst. Proudfoot’s achievement is in showing that his bizarre thoughts and actions make a kind of sense when you understand his story.
The present tense narration brings immediacy to the process of grieving, especially when we see how one character is determined to obliterate all traces of the tragedy in order to forget, while another is terrified of not being able to remember. It’s a vivid reminder that grief is different for everyone and that people react in all kinds of different ways which are often not comprehensible to others.
The Neighbour is a splendid debut and I hope it is just the first of more terrific writing to come.
Julie blogs at Passages of Writing.
Author: Julie Proudfoot
Title: The Neighbour
Publisher: Seizure, 2014
ISBN: 9781922057983 (print) and 97819211348 (digital)
Source: review copy courtesy of Seizure