Book Review – Another by Joel Deane
Joel Deane’s Another won the Interactive Publications IP Picks ‘Best Fiction’ Award in 2004, and was published in the same year. This is my first Joel Deane book, and my first IP book as well, so I was interested to start reading straight away. In terms of the physical production of the book, I was pleased to discover that Another was professionally put together. The only problem I had was that a few of the lines had not been printed correctly, i.e. they were faded. This was only 3 or 4 lines in the book, so it’s a small issue. From what I had read about the book, I imagined that Another would cover a similar terrain to that in Andrew McGahan’s Praise and 1988. This assumption was partially correct, but if Another can’t match the stunning narrative drive of McGahan’s Vogel winner, it certainly rose above anything else that I’ve read of McGahan’s.
Another is a novel about a working class (if I am being unkind I would say white trash) family living in outer Brisbane, presumably in the mid-nineties. Late teen Toby Purcell is our main ‘protagonist’ (the inverted commas are because his actions can hardly be described as positive in any way). He lives with his Mum, his Gran, and a woman called Michelle. We soon discover that Michelle is in fact the girlfriend of Toby’s older brother Danny, who seems to have disappeared somewhere. The novel opens with an image of fire which, on reflection, never really leaves us as the book progresses. There is the fire which consumes Toby’s flesh, the fire of the burning Brisbane sun, and the fire of rage in the hearts of virtually everyone in this novel. This isn’t a bedtime read type of novel. Being the way that I am (read: a little odd) it was water off a duck’s back for me, however.
Okay, what happens in this book? Well, in time-honoured fashion Deane weaves his narrative to reveal events occurring in the past at specific times. This was an area that I felt Another really shone, for the method was more sophisticated than the overused ‘one chapter present, one chapter past’ technique. I would have to re-read the book to discern precisely how Deane achieved this, but suffice to say that the narrative is constructed around family secrets. Having said that, a couple of Another‘s secrets were all too obvious, even for a dense reader like me. The nature of Danny’s current condition is a prime example of this.
I still haven’t talked about the plot. It’s basically a narrative about Toby and his self-harming girlfriend Suzie’s crime spree. As the narrative progresses, their crimes become more brazen, but they always manage to elude capture. Just as much as this, though, the book is about personal tragedies, particularly the tragedies of women who are the victims of domestic violence. This is a sour, sometimes shocking book. One scene, in which Toby breaks into a house to find a baby left alone for hours in a crib, is particularly moving. Toby bludgeons a service station attendant half to death for $45, and later remembers how good it felt to wreak violence on another person. This is harsh, unapologetic, and grim. I suspect that people who aren’t as addicted to tales of destruction and dissolution as I am might find it difficult to enjoy reading this. But enjoy it I did.
This is also about racial intolerance (this is Brisbane in the One Nation years) and the crippling effects of poverty. Deane isn’t one to ram a theme down you’re throat, however. The closest he comes to direct satire is a quip about an Aboriginal man walking into a bookstore being a bigger security threat than the rampaging Toby and Suzie. And yet a sensitive reading of Another can’t but notice Deane’s cool rejection of much of the material here. It is a subtle art to write so candidly about such horrific matters, without anything but the merest hint of authorial disapproval, and expect the reader to interpret the novel ‘correctly’. (If I am interpreting it correctly.) But here I found Another to be a success. This is literature without needing to be Literature. I respect Deane for being able to write as clearly and as candidly as he does.