As I’ve been reading so many chunksters this year, novellas have proven to be the perfect inbetween palate cleansers. The current ones are both from 2022 and both new releases. One is from Australia and one is from Pakistani writer Mohsin Hamid (on his website he says that he now spends his time between Lahore, London, New York and California). One story features LGBTQIA and race issues while the other is purely a race based story.
But of course both books are much more than that. The protagonists create the narrative drive while the setting defines how and why the various relationships develop. One is set in 1950’s Melbourne and one is set barely five minutes in the future in the USA.
I had the payphone receiver to my mouth. The train station was a cavernous, domed echo chamber.
Marlo was a heart wrenching look at life in 1950’s Melbourne through the eyes of a gay man, Christopher. The lover who finally caught his eye was an Aboriginal man, Morgan, living with his white father – he was an outsider, marginalised, twice over. Their cautious, careful courtship was painful to witness. Public displays were to be avoided at all costs, yet the ability to find safe havens to be together were also fraught with danger.
Carmichael captured the strict, conservative, disapproving world that surrounded Christopher & Morgan using sparse, elegant language supplemented by black and white photos sourced from the Australian Queer Archive website. Carmichael refrained from turning this into a trauma story, but the happy-ever-afters are conditional and precarious.
Unfortunately the sparse style and some awkward jumps in time, meant I never really felt fully engaged in the lives of these two men. Historically fascinating but not completely captivating.
Being alone with one person can be more awful than being with a group of unknown people.
Title: Marlo Author: Jay Carmichael ISBN: 9781925713695 Imprint: Scribe Publications Published: 2 August 2022 Format: Paperback Pages: 150 Dates Read: 10 August 2022 - 16 August 2022
One morning Anders, a white man, woke up to find he had turned a deep and undeniable brown.
The Last White Man was a tremendous story with lots of fascinating stuff to unpack about race, identity, perception, truth, loss and belonging. It would make a great book club choice.
Hamid created a world where ‘none of the old rules any longer appled.’ Some reviewers have described his writing as magic realism, but for me it feels like Hamid is simply daring us to consider futures vastly different from the one currently on offer.
Our shared experiences with the pandemic were incorporated into this particular future. As Anders’ world descended into chaos and disorder, hoarding became a thing, followed by a period of isolation, as those who had already changed, waited for the rest of the world to change too.
After the change, the new post-racial world took on an aura of calm. A few tried to hold onto their ‘whiteness’ and the sense of superiority and specialness, but eventually this kind of thinking became irrelevant and obsolete. Perhaps, Hamid also hopes that generational change is the answer to many of the issues facing the world we live in today.
Fascinating, thought-provoking AND captivating.
Title: The Last White Man Author: Mohsin Hamid ISBN: 9780241566572 Imprint: Hamish Hamilton Published: 16 August 2022 Format: Hardback Pages: 192 Dates Read: 27 August - 28 August 2022
- This post was written on the traditional land of the Wangal clan, one of the 29 clans of the Eora Nation within the Sydney basin. This Reading Life acknowledges that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are this land’s first storytellers.