Posted by: Lisa Hill | June 5, 2021

The Miscreants, by Christopher Hawkes

If anything in this review raises issues for you, help is available at Beyond Blue.


When their mother throws herself off the balcony of their Islington council flat, brothers Harry and Ethan are set adrift.
Years later, Harry moves to Canada to escapes friendships and drug deals that have gone sour, and Ethan enrols in university, hoping to find answers to life’s biggest questions.
But when Ethan goes missing, Harry comes home. He traces Ethan to Sweden, and to Gretta. Gretta holds the clues to Ethan’s mysterious connection to a doomsday cult, but will Harry find him before it’s too late?

The Miscreants is the debut novel of Melbourne author Christopher Hawkes, and it’s published by a new small publisher called Glimmer Press.

Ultimately it’s about family, but this is no vanilla relationship novel.  It’s confronting reading.  In the prologue dated 1979, the two protagonists, stepbrothers Harry and Ethan, are just boys when they find their mother in a pool of blood.  The implications of this violent death echo down through the years.

When the novel opens in 1994 the brothers are estranged.  Harry is in Canada, drifting along and bludging from a girlfriend that he doesn’t really care about anyway.   But she’s a flawed human too: when a parcel arrives for Harry, she opens it, and although the book—Xavier’s Priestley’s SF Quest of the Iridiumites—is inscribed ‘To Harry, from Ethan’ she doesn’t give it to him, and puts it on her own bedside table to read.  Which is where Harry finds it, and is livid that she didn’t even keep the packaging which might have given a return address.

But when Harry’s father rings from London because he’s seriously ill (drinking himself to death to deal with the trauma of the suicide), there’s no rush of familial love.  Harry goes home only because he made a stupid decision to steal some travellers’ cheques that he found hidden in a public toilet, and the police are onto him quickly.  Stealing is not the only stupid decision that he makes.

However, his aimlessness (which expresses itself in taking drugs, getting drunk, not even trying to get a job and hanging out with a Bad Crowd) resolves into a quest to find his brother, offering an opportunity for redemption.  Ethan has gone missing, and the trail is cold as far as authorities are concerned, but a series of lucky opportunities leads Harry to some clues.  Ethan’s lecturer at university provides the most useful information:

‘No one would deny that your brother is very intelligent, but very little of what he handed in bore any relevance to the course.’

‘What was it about?’

‘From what I can recall, he had an idealistic infatuation with internationalist communities, autonomous zones.  His last essay was about Christiania, the Danish experiment.  Maybe he’s gone off looking for Utopia.’ (p.60)

Harry takes off for Sweden where he pushes himself right to a cliff-hanging edge as he draws closer to where his brother might be.

The narrative then switches to Ethan’s story.  He is on a quest too, a quest to belong because, never having known his real father, he feels fatherless. He takes this longing to such an extreme that he identifies with the members of a doomsday cult, believing that he too was fathered by its founder.  He becomes so obsessed that he takes on the past of his girlfriend Gretta, associating her memories of childhood as his own.  In the commune, however, things go horribly, disastrously, shockingly wrong, to the extent that reader empathy for this troubled young man is sorely tested.

The sense of unreality is forged by Harry’s nightmarish dream sequences, punctuated by excerpts from the Quest of the Iridiumites which resonate into the real world scenario.  Time is also distorted because daylight lasts so long in Sweden in summer.

The death of a parent is traumatic for any child, but this novel shows that the effects of suicide ripple out in many directions.  We have to get better at suicide prevention.

Author: Christopher Hawkes
Title: The Miscreants
Publisher: Glimmer Press, 2021
Cover design by Zena Shapter
ISBN: 9780648463528, pbk., 263 pages
Review copy courtesy of Glimmer Press

 


Responses

  1. Even when they’re tough and dark, I appreciate reading family stories. I just finished a slim volume by Justin Torres called We the Animals (referring to three young brothers); it won a load of critical acclaim in North America and it’s no longer new by any means, so I’m not sure whether his name would be recognizable over there or not. Anyway, that tight, polished plain-but-somehow-also-nearly-poetic prose about such real-feeling family life, very ordinary and sometimes very hard.

    Like

    • Well, family stories are not usually my favourite books to read, but sometimes an author like this one can transcend the sameness that mars so many of them.

      Like


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