Posted by: Lisa Hill | May 5, 2022

Hovering (2022), by Rhett Davis

Winner of the 2020 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript, Hovering is the most entertaining book I’ve read for a while, but it’s macabre and disorientating too.

Fun… because of the deadpan delivery of the absurdity of modern (non)communication but macabre and disorientating because it contests the complacent security of life in our cities.

Hovering made me think of the plaintive refrains about wanting certainty during pandemic lockdowns.  What was it, I used to wonder, that made them not understand that certainty is no more possible in a pandemic than it is in a natural disaster or a war?  Rhett Davis shows us that the planet itself rebels against mistreatment and denial of history, and that people have no choice but to learn to adjust and adapt.  He does this in a city recognisable as Melbourne but — in an echo of the unnecessary and disorientating renaming of Narrm by John Batman* —he has renamed the city as Fraser,

This is the blurb:

The city was in the same place. But was it the same city?
Alice stands outside her family’s 1950s red brick veneer, unsure if she should approach. It has been sixteen years, but it’s clear she is out of options.
Lydia opens the door to a familiar stranger – thirty-nine, tall, bony, pale. She knows her sister immediately. But something isn’t right. Meanwhile her son, George, is upstairs, still refusing to speak, and lost in a virtual world of his own design
Nothing is as it was, and while the sisters’ resentments flare, it seems that the city too is agitated. People wake up to streets that have rearranged themselves, in houses that have moved to different parts of town. Tensions rise and the authorities have no answers. The internet becomes alight with conspiracy theories.
As the world lurches around them, Alice’s secret will be revealed, and the ground at their feet will no longer be so firm.

The nearest I’ve come to this kind of disorientating experience was in one of Melbourne’s last major rainstorms.  My daily commute was usually about 35 minutes, but five times on my usual route home I was stopped by flash flooding.  I had to stop, adjust my mental map to bypass dips in the road and valleys that I’d never thought about before, and find another way. It was much harder as it got dark.  Driving backwards and forwards in suburbs I didn’t know as floodwaters blocked my way, I began to panic about whether I would ever get home.

So, how do the good folk of Fraser cope with the ad hoc rearrangement of their built environment?  Let’s turn to social media to see what’s trending…

Trending articles

  1. Latest polling reveals swing to unknown party
  2. Tupperly takes flight, injuries many: watch live
  3. You can’t say ‘you’ without ‘I’, Dr Falcon
  4. Report: Australian voters see voting like gambling, think it’s all just good fun
  5. Opinion: Klaus’s outburst costs Wrexham remaining goodwill
  6. It’s official: Instant global communication not helpful
  7. Fraser real-time smash round-up: watch live
  8. Report: Immortal Labrador puppy grown in Dutch lab
  9. Football: League boss admits he doesn’t know all the rules
  10. Opinion: There are more of us than ever and none of us know what we’re doing. (p.115)

Yes, I have a feeling that the author has harvested some of these from my Twitter feed…

Then there are descriptions of Trending videos, which are awesome in their authenticity.  Here’s No 3:

A small boy babbles nonsensically at three spaniels as if they are his friends.  He offers them coloured wooden cubes.  The dogs look at the camera with concern. (p.117)

And the trending hashtags?

#ActualWarriorsSeasonFinale (p.117)

Yes, Rhett Davis has nailed it.  As we can see, sport — which in the real life pandemic throughout lockdowns when there was no sport, nonetheless managed to consume its usual 10 minutes of news broadcasts — maintains its pre-eminence in the minds of the good folks of Fraser. Because unless what’s been rearranged is your letter-box, or your house, or your shopping centre, or your school, or your route to wherever, well, #SportRules!

#Nowords is my favourite of these trending hashtags.  It is the hashtag of choice for someone who can’t think of anything to say, or doesn’t actually care, or even disagrees with the virtue-signalling — but is terrified of being left out of the conversation.

Davis satirises contemporary communication throughout the novel.  There are SMS convos, and depictions of parallel realities in columns showing the contemporaneous thoughts and actions of the three main characters, Lydia, Alice and George.  There are hilarious files in the digital retrieval systems which are bugging their home because Alice is a ‘person of interest’ to the authorities. Cringe-worthy discussions in forums (accompanied by gifs) often descend into abuse.  There is a premier’s press release in weasel words, and there are reports from the Bureau of Municipal Disturbances. (If you don’t report your missing house within the specified timeframe, too bad for you).  Unsurprisingly, characters are doomscrolling, and walking away.

In a cunning inversion of the adolescent obsession with screens, George’s mother retreats into game-playing, 8-10 hours at a time and not bothering to eat.  This fantasy world is one where she has agency to create a natural environment.  Her son George hacks into the game, gives her a digital image of a tree they both love in real life, but she doesn’t respond.

George, I should add, is an elective mute.  Ironically, he ensures that when he communicates, people have to pay attention.  They have to get out their phones and read his texts.  He is actually communicating more effectively than anyone else in the novel. He’s also making a lot of money.  While struggling with doing a school project about his future in 15 years, he’s selling digital trees and licensing them to content creators such as game developers, design companies and architectural firms.

And Alice?  What has she been up to overseas that has attracted the attention of the authorities.  Well, #NoSpoilers, she is a radical, but *chuckle* that’s all I’ll say.

My advice is: drop everything else and read Hovering.  It’s a cert for my Best Books of the Year, and it ought to be on shortlists everywhere.

The Kulin Nation, source: Nick Carson at English Wikipedia

*For international readers: The city said to have been founded by John Batman and John Pascoe Fawkner is now called Melbourne but the traditional lands of the Kulin nation were known for time out of mind as Naarm.  The Kulin Nation is a collective of five Aboriginal nations: Wurundjeri, Boonwurrung, Wathaurrung, Daungwurrung and Dja DjaWrung.  ANZ LitLovers comes to you from Boonwurrung country.

Author: Rhett Davis
Title: Hovering
Publisher: Hachette, 2022
Cover design: Design by Committee, painting by Kenton Nelson
ISBN: 9780733645624, pbk., 289 pages
Source: Personal library, purchased from Readings $32.99


  1. Hmmm… you haven’t sold me Lisa. On one hand, I absolutely want to read the book that will be in your top picks for the year, but on the other, it sounds a bit…. chaotic?


    • No, nooo, no it’s not chaotic. How have I given that impression? Please tell me so that I can redress it…


  2. I did enjoy your review and this sounds like something I might like – and our library has it on order and already someone has beaten me to the post and reserved it ahead of me. Now I don’t know how to wait!

    I appreciated The Cook and Some Tests so much, is this remotely similar in humour?

    I’ve experienced that kind of panic Lisa in a long drive from the north coast to inland and got lost in Newcastle and couldn’t find my way out, until I had to pull over and recover and a kind truckie finally gave me directions. I was becoming quite frantic.


    • The thing is, so often we drive on auto pilot. We pay attention to the road, but we don’t need to think about the route because we’ve done it so often. And I have no sense of direction at all. I used to think that SatNavs were just for rich people who wanted to show off, but now I’m a convert. If I’m going somewhere unfamiliar, I can’t read the Large Print Melways even with glasses, so I’d be lost without my ‘Maisie’ bossing me around. If it stopped working the way it does in this book, I don’t know what I’d do!
      I wouldn’t say it was like Macauley’s satires… it’s more like that other recent book The Signal Line in the sense that weirdly impossible things that happen (the built environment rearranging itself, the ghost train) seem utterly realistic. I don’t usually like that kind of device in the books I read but when it’s done so well in the service of very intelligent ideas, I think it’s wonderful.


      • Thanks Lisa, I’m really looking forward to trying this.
        I think you’re correct too, I normally drive without thinking and one wrong turn in a place I’m not familiar with and I was soon lost – no sense of direction here either, and no Maisie unfortunately! Hooray for helpful truckies who give directions!


        • Yes, and a shout-out to taxi-drivers too!


  3. Sounds brilliant and very clever Lisa – thanks for the heads up!


  4. Clever and scary!!! Or should that be #scary


  5. Ok, next time I’m in the bookshop I’ll order it. I have a book on order right now and for the life of me I can’t think what it is. But that’s ok, I don’t mind surprises.
    My problem (driving) is minesites. Everything looks so different at night and you really can’t afford to take a wrong turn.


    • No… I’m guessing that some night driving is unavoidable?


      • I try to be out on the highways at night. Not that I haven’t taken wrong turns on the open road.

        Liked by 1 person

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