At the Edge of the Solid World

Shortlisted for the 2021 Miles Franklin Literary Award

An Australian Book Review Book of the Year for 2020

The Sydney Morning Herald/The Age ‘Pick of the Week’ for 14-15 November 2020

In a snowbound village in the heart of the Alps, a husband and wife find their lives breaking apart in the days and months following the death of their firstborn. On the far side of the world, in their hometown of Sydney, a man on the margins of Australian society commits an act of shocking violence that galvanises international attention. As the husband recognises signs of his own grief in both the survivors and the perpetrator, his fixation on the details of the case feeds into insomnia, trauma, and an obsession with the terms on which we give value to human lives. A compulsive, compelling and lyrical novel, told with extraordinary empathy and emotional intelligence, this sweeping saga examines the nature of loss, the resilience and fragility of the family unit, and the stories we tell to explain the world.

Praise for At the Edge of the Solid World

At the Edge of the Solid World is a deliberately frustrating novel, as in challenging the assumptions of fiction, it withholds many of its expected pleasures — dramatized action, satisfying narrative closure, the revelation of meaning — and in so doing tears away its common, but illusionary, assurances. We cannot live the lives of others, see things as they do, feel their pain. And this is a novel that explores the limits of language and storytelling, their insufficiency in capturing the felt experience of emotion or articulating the interiority of the self. It is highly innovative, but in an understated way, without any stylistic or structural devices that call attention to themselves. The conflicts, connections and observations that offer the prospect or expectation of a turning point or a major change tend to resolve themselves anticlimactically, fading into silence as the narrator and other characters reach the limits of their understanding and capacity to communicate.

A slow, deliberate, quiet novel, it often feels claustrophobic, as we are trapped with a narrator who unable to ever escape himself, who always sees his own experience reflected at him in the tragedies, losses, and atrocities that he chooses to contemplate. At the Edge of the Solid World is, nonetheless, remarkably absorbing reading. The direct, conversational, and carefully analytic description of the narrator’s own grief and turmoil is compelling. While it demands a lot of the reader and the muted bleakness of its subject threatens to become overwhelming, it is easy to become caught up in the meticulous, demanding exactitude of the narrator as he struggles to come to grips with his grief and his inability to satisfyingly connect his experience to that of others. It is a novel that is difficult in all the best ways, one that is hard to put down and equally hard to pick back up again.

Julian Novitz, Sydney Review of Books

Media Reviews

There are, in a sense, many books in this single work, and their merging is gainful, like an alloy whose molten components are improved through complexity. … [It] is unapologetically demanding. … It challenges readers in terms of both form and content: facing its graphic catalogue of violence, keeping account of its many moving parts, reckoning with its philosophical deadlocks, and, at the end of a reading session, escaping its obsessive hold. Most extraordinary is Davis Wood’s ability to blur the boundaries between narratives until, from their yielding, edgeless form, emerges a new shape.

Naama Grey-Smith, The Australian Book Review (print and podcast)

In his second novel, Daniel Davis Wood weaves the complex stories of individuals and families with history and culture, space and time. … The ripple effects of all the events in this account of [the narrator’s grief] are tragic, but the tragedy is enfolded in love and acts of tenderness and memory. It’s not a comfortable read. But it is an extraordinary read.

— Jen Webb, The Guardian

Daniel Davis Wood is one of those surprisingly rare writers whose prose style and powers of observation do justice to each other. … One of the best things about this novel is the way it makes us think about the relationship between personal tragedies and human catastrophes on a grand scale.

— Kerryn Goldsworthy, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age

Utterly original… a detailed study in grief and empathy. This beautifully written novel places individual and personal human grief in the context of various massive-scale real-life tragedies, tacitly making the argument that the former is not diminished by the latter.

Australian Book Review Books of the Year

This novel does not bend to easy summation. On the surface it is about a man crippled by grief after the death of his newborn. But where other novels might cleave to a story of domestic drama — indeed his marriage does disintegrate — this one cleverly plumbs his inner world as he searches to understand this grief within the limitations of language and shared experience. … The narrator’s peripatetic mind investigates historical figures who’ve also grappled with loss and displacement, and the reader must tussle with the overlay of meanings this intellectually sophisticated novel animates.

— Sarah L’Estrange, ABC Arts

A significant literary achievement. … A powerful and deeply intelligent novel that probes the extremes of human experience, a text about which you’ll be thinking for a long time to come.

— Jeff Sparrow, The Saturday Paper

An ornate emotional vivisection… [The] chapters become intricately calibrated collisions, collapses in space and time… marvels of narrative engineering.

— Beejay Silcox, The Australian

A wormhole of almost solipsistic self-obsession. … Yet somehow, in the reading, you don’t feel this [book] lays on your shoulders like an anvil. It is a deep and dark book, on occasions. It’s complicated. It’s perhaps the most ambitious of the [Miles Franklin] shortlisted books. But there’s a sense that someone is wrestling with something profoundly important. … It’s a very interesting book, not for everybody… but it does reward the attention.

Tom Wright, ABC Radio’s The Book Shelf

A beautiful, formally ambitious and wrenching book about mourning and empathy — a wonderful follow-up to Blood and Bone.

— Adam Rivett, The Monthly

Reader Reviews

An artful portrayal of strong emotion, and of the functions and limitations of various kinds of empathy…

— Shannon Burns, Twitter

This ode to grief is sumptuously and gorgeously written, a nearly 500 page prose poem on the limits of understanding ourselves and others. … If you can stare down the sometimes graphic descriptions of some of the worst of human suffering, there is absolute beauty to be found in the weaving of the historical, biographical and folkloric.

— Sarah, Instagram

Astonishing. … The narrator constantly finds himself up against the limits (edges) of language, empathy, logic, and comprehension. He wants to know if each grief is unique, is it quantifiable, is it possible to give equal respect to every instance of grief? What is the face of grief, its phenomenology? There are many storylines in this novel, weaving in and out with each other so that, often within one paragraph, we are crossing boundaries of time place and person. … This is not an easy book to read. Its subject matter is dark and heavy, but it is one of the best explorations of grief that I have come across. … The writing is extraordinary.

— Manuela, Instagram

At the Edge of the Solid World was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award in 2021. Quite frankly, it should have won. It is not only one of the best Australian books published in the last year or so, I consider to be one of the best books I have read, ever.

— Peter, Goodreads

This book requires serious commitment from the reader. Daniel Davis Wood provides a dense examination of consciousness itself — in the context of tragedy, love, history, recompense, relationships, desperation, resilience, bureaucracy, morality, folklore, loss, grief, and existential inquiry. Delivered poetically with lyrical expertise. … To say this book is unique would be underselling it. To call it a masterpiece would be closer to the mark.

— David, Goodreads

Beautifully written, delving into grief and the way it fractures people’s lives…

— Michael, Goodreads

The best novel I’ve read this year. Intense, compelling, epic.

— Kim, Goodreads

I found this a complex and intricately detailed narrative on grief and mourning. It is both lyrical and poetic and jarringly violent and angry within the same paragraph. … A thought-provoking read.

— Julie, Goodreads

Exquisite and lyrical… dark and claustrophobic… brilliant and beautifully written.

— Neil Lucas, The Book Lover

A masterpiece.

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