Posted by: Lisa Hill | June 2, 2017

Sensational Snippets: Waiting, by Philip Salom

I am reading Philip Salom’s novel Waiting with my admiration increasing page by page, and I am starting to think that this is the one that ought to win the 2017 Miles Franklin.  Ignore the daggy cover, this novel is a gem.

This is the blurb:

Waiting is a story of two odd couples in prose as marvellously idiosyncratic as its characters.

Big is a hefty cross-dresser and Little is little. Both are long used to the routines of boarding house life in the inner suburbs of Melbourne, but Little, with the prospect of an inheritance, is beginning to indulge in the great Australian dream, which has Big worried. Little’s cousin, Angus, is a solitary man who designs lake-scapes for city councils, and strangely constructed fireproof houses for the bushfire zone. A handy man, he meets Jasmin an academic who races in her ideas as much as in her runners. Her head is set on publishing books on semiotics and her heart is turned towards her stalled personal life. All four are waiting, for something if not someone.

Salom’s characterisation is exquisite.  Among the idiosyncratic minor characters at the boarding house is The Sheriff.

Way back in his own shadows The Sheriff has a wife and kids living out at Bairnsdale.  Not that he ever talks about them, beyond the obligatory shrug about the law and how it ruins a man.  Crime?  Marriage? No, he means the Family Court, an article of faith among ruined men, and he does not, strangely enough, mean the Criminal Court, which really has ruined him.  With his own help, of course, but then the same could be said of his marriage.  He led the way and the law followed but followed faster than he led, and in institutional terms, at least, so to bed.  A cell bed.  Some crims make good husbands and fathers, the deciding factor being the predictable twins of money and status: if you have them, you may be good at anything in the eyes of many.

He had neither.

Now he has even less, he is a nobody with his girth slowly telling him something much worse, that he is just like everyone else.  That’s scary.  When all he had before was not being everyone else.

From Waiting by Philip Salom, Puncher and Wattman, 2016, ISBN 9781922186836, p.168.

Further on, we find that wife and kids feature small and loud in his vague memory…

Her name is Tess.  It has been a sound in his Christmas ear, and hers too therefore on the one day he rings her and implies he and she are linked by a generalised gathering of emotion lost in habit, as that day often is, even for the many who still live in the same house, let alone those scattered down phone lines, he not being an internet man and who knows what she is.  The hello is a thin, shiny moment just faintly resembling tinsel and a ritual breaking of the routine that holds for 364 days before and of course following the sound in his ear.  (p. 169)

One of the blurbers captures it perfectly, I think:

‘Stories with flashes of poetry and sudden insight and such profound compassion that they should be labelled ‘WARNING: Could make the reader kinder.’ Send a copy to a politician.’ – Sue Woolfe

Puncher and Wattman are small publishers, so despite the longlisting for the Miles Franklin award, this novel could be hard to find.  I got my copy from Fishpond: Waiting.


Responses

  1. […] anything about it, but the blurb at Fishpond sounds good so I’ve ordered it.  Update 2/6/17 See a Sensational Snippet here, the review is coming […]

  2. Chinese novel of same name

    • Hi Anton, there are more than a few novels with the same name!

      • by Ha Jin, 1999 prize winner

  3. Do the characters all live in the same boarding house? Start a thread on multi-character boarding house residents novels. Name one or two and I’ll come back to you.

    • Gosh, I don’t know any others. Maybe other readers can help…

      • Naguib Mahfouz: MIRAMAR

  4. It does sound good, but it doesn’t seem like a very inspiring year for the Miles Franklin, 2017. I know, I’m getting old, but I remember the good old days – will any of these books be classics, or even remembered, in 10 years time? I’ll look out for your review, meanwhile I’m making a start on the 2018 MF, that looks much more interesting.

  5. I thought that in a different context last night. We got home from My Fair Lady and put the TV on to catch Lateline because we’d missed the news, and instead there was a feature about our famous Aussie expats: Germaine Greer, Robert Hughes, Clive James and Barry Humphries (http://www.abc.net.au/arts/stories/s4080326.htm) followed by something called The Agony of Life, with contemporary so-called humourists, with IQs not even within range. I watched these inane people in a kind of awed disbelief and then turned it off. Where are our really brilliant thinkers now? Do we have any? And if we do, I’m sure we do, why aren’t they on the ABC?

    • I’m not a fan of James or Humphries but the ones I remember are nearly as old – DAAS, Max Gillies, Wendy Harmer

      • *snap!* Neither am I, but there’s no denying their intelligence.

  6. This sounds wonderful, and I love the ‘daggy cover’ expression. I may have to adopt it. There are so many of them

    • It’s a shame, isn’t it? Another example of how mass production of consumer objects has resulted in a loss of quality. Companies have sacked their graphic designers, and the book, which used to be an object of beauty, is now mundane. (Except for what’s inside it, of course!)

      • They’re often misleading, too. A disservice to both writer and reader.

        • Yes, good point. I love that feeling that goes with recognition of some graphic element that points to something in the story.

    • Define “daggy” but not from context alone. Is this an Aussie-ism? Is it like British “grotty” a contraction of grotesque? Contraction of what?

  7. […] I said so in the Sensational Snippet from this book that I posted a couple of days ago: I think that Philip Salom’s […]


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