Posted by: Lisa Hill | March 31, 2023

Waypoints (2022), by Adam Ouston

Waypoints is an intriguing work of fiction that will appeal to readers who are comfortable with having a delayed understanding of what’s going on in the text.  If you’re ok with reading what seems to be randomness (but isn’t) you will enjoy Waypoints, even if — like me — you have to read and re-read and re-read again and again to join the dots, and then discover that the author has been playing games and sucked you into tracking something that was established as trivial at the outset.

Instead of focussing on what’s important.

Let me try to explain.

The novel begins with a narrator eventually revealed to be Arthur Bernard  Cripps who is obsessed with Harry Houdini’s attempt on an aviation record at Diggers’ Rest Victoria in 1910.  Cripps is indignant that people are so keen to know ‘facts’, which are often not important, or are distorted, or not even true, when they don’t know what they ought to know.  Specifically he can’t get over the way that many more people know about the celebrity who failed to set an aviation record rather than know about the person who succeeded.

So it’s weird that the bankable fact that has come down through the ages, or rather the decades, over a century later, when getting on a plane costs much less than £200 and the only time aircraft appear in the media is when they are not in the sky — as I now know only too well — is not the same fact that was so bankable in 1910, is not that Harry Houdini was first, but that Harry Houdini was not first… (p.12, underlining mine.)

Ouston — in this narrative of a single paragraph over 172 pages that begins with a sentence half a page long, which is followed by another twice its length — has Cripps lure the reader into reading all about Houdini at Diggers’ Rest, and his promoter Harry Rickards, and about HR’s wife who was a trapeze artist, and — almost as an afterthought — he mentions his own wife who was also a trapeze artist.  Ouston’s narrator is mimicking the way those who are obsessed with celebrity know all about whoever it is, almost as if they are part of the family.

He rambles on about other aviators, and their tragic ends, and how some were lost at sea, and we learn that he has ‘lost’ his father to Alzheimer’s disease, and that he has a project underway to recreate the Houdini flight because he wants to go back in time as if in a time machine to recreate the Age of Awe.

(I won’t have been the only reader to read and re-read, back from page 21, and then back again from page 43, to see if I had missed the name of the person who achieved the aviation record that Houdini was aiming for but failed.)

And then, well after the enigmatic insertion which I underlined in the excerpt above, Cripps tells us that his wife, Alison and his daughter Beatrice vanished without a trace when Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 disappeared en route between Kuala Lumpur and Beijing. This narrator is a man drowning in grief.

How can it be, in an age when everything is tracked, traced, photographed, recorded and stored in the cloud, that there are no answers to the mysterious disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370?  No wonder there are conspiracy theories about it, he says…

With a slow accretion of detail, with occasional light touches of humour, he keeps revisiting his preoccupations, his mind wandering off on other tangents, but always grounded in his anguish of not knowing, an anguish which is compounded by living in an age where all knowledge is searchable on the web. He shares his exhaustive online investigations into the mystery of the vanished plane, including some unnerving anecdotes about pilot suicides and a dot-point list of theories about how passengers might suffer, or not, as a plane is going down, and I confess to skipping these because I’d never get on a plane again if I read them.  As the text moves on he tries to rationalise what he is doing, torturing himself like this, and he thinks that searching for the truth about his wife and daughter is triggered by survivor guilt.  He had stayed home to care for his father instead of joining them, and he feels shame in surviving.

Paul Fulcher, in his review at Goodreads, writes:

This is a Sebaldian novel for the age of Wikipedia, written by a Bernard-like manically obsessively circular narrator, in lengthy sentences and one unbroken paragraph, except without the misanthropy (wonderfully the very last character in the novel is a “curmudgeonly” Austrian), and with a distinctive voice of Ouston’s own.

I agree: the style of this narrative is rather Bernhardian (as in Thomas Bernhard and his rants) and Sebaldian because there are photos which are integral to the text. But what makes it distinctive is Ouston’s empathetic portrayal of an incomprehensible grief and his mastery of an intimate tone for his bereft narrator.

Waypoints was shortlisted for the 2022 Tasmanian Premier’s Literary Awards.

There are other reviews at the  Sydney Review of Books and at ArtsHub.

Last year, one of my favourite bookshops, Blarney’s Books and Art at Port Fairy hosted the Biblio Art Prize, where a work of art has been inspired by an Australian book.   Waypoints in History 1 and 2 by Glenn Reynolds is a work of genius, I reckon.

Author: Adam Ouston
Title: Waypoints
Publisher: Puncher & Wattman, 2022, first published in Britain in 2022 by Splice
ISBN: 9781922571243, pbk., 173 pages
Source: personal library, purchased from Blarney’s Books Port Fairy


  1. I recollect some buzz about this last year around awards times. Sounds intriguing. Certainly Sebaldian had tempted me and I do love tricky writers.


  2. Can I resist temptation? Hmm …


    • This is one of those books where it’s really hard to know if others would like it or not.
      You have to be in the mood for it, and to make time for it too.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ll look out for it, but I hope I don’t have to re-read sections. If I’m not understanding something, I generally just keep going and hope the writer eventually brings me up to speed.


    • The re-reading might just be me…


  4. […] Adam Ouston, Waypoints (Puncher & Wattmann) (Lisa’s review) […]


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