It’s true: the 2021 Miles Franklin Award longlist was announced today and At the Edge of the Solid World is one of the dozen titles on it. I’m honoured and humbled to see my novel receive a place on the longlist, and hopefully some fresh wind in its sails. Aside from that, I’ll say no more except to drop in here a response I was asked to give in the event of media interest:
As an expatriate author writing a book about an expatriate experience, I often felt at a distance from Australia’s literary scene and riddled with doubts about whether my work would really speak to readers in Australia. So, for me, this longlisting is both an unexpected honour and a reassurance that that experience — of uprootedness, of voluntary outsiderness — can indeed be a meaningful aspect of Australian life in its current phase.
The shortlist announcement is scheduled for June 16.
How did I miss this? (Simple enough: I didn’t see it in print because don’t live in Australia, and the text doesn’t appear on the website of The Australian.) Anyway, Beejay Silcox published a great review of At the Edge of the Solid World in the year’s first edition of The Weekend Australian. You can sort of get it via PressReader, albeit behind a paywall, but I also have a screenshot that will do the job (click to enlarge):
Silcox’s review is, as you’ll see, more mixed than the others the book has received, though no less insightful or attentive to the details. For her, the branches of the timelines are “marvels of narrative engineering, but to be admired as one might admire the workings of a wind-up clock, all cogs and ceaseless ticking,” and she judges the Port Arthur chapters to be “a terrible miscalculation.” For my part, I wouldn’t call either of those impressions unjust. In fact, I’ll own up to having aimed at creating them, quite deliberately and for specific purposes. My suspicion is that if Silcox were to have pushed harder on these criticisms, and been given the space to elaborate on them, the result would have been a strengthening of her views, born from an understanding of the rightful origins and purposes of literature which is very different from my own.
It’s not often your book picks up an honour like this: a capsule review by Kerryn Goldsworthy, running in both The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald, which illuminates your aims precisely:
[Daniel Davis Wood] is one of those surprisingly rare writers whose prose style and powers of observation do justice to each other. The first-person narration puts the grieving father insistently close, like the Ancient Mariner, but 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.
With exactly a month to go before the official publication of At the Edge of the Solid World, I had the honour of writing for Meanjin about what I’ve been reading lately. As well as meditating on three impressive books, I took the opportunity also to think about the uncanny experience of finding the concerns of my own novel intimated in the work of other writers:
Narrative as a form of causal explanation is always too clean to encompass the mess of life as lived, not least because the language of narrative is finally expedient, therefore reductive, therefore unable to honour the unfathomable complexity of the world it purports to describe. That narrative is a double-edged sword — that to narrativise may be to liberate oneself from an experience while imprisoning oneself in an illusory construct — is something that I, too, have come to believe increasingly over the last few years. I cast a wary eye over anything that proposes a because: ‘this thing happened to me only because…’ or ‘I did that to them mostly because…’
Take a breath, then exhale. Relax. Recline. Head back, eyes closed. Feel the world fall away as you rise. It’s lift-off.
That’s how these last few days have felt to me. Earlier this week, I handed over to my editor the next-to-final draft of At the Edge of the Solid World. The book has a beautiful, haunting cover, and an online presence. It’s due to be published in July. It’s out for proofreading now and should come back to me in a few weeks, hopefully with all errors caught, and with comments on infelicities that have so far escaped the eyes of its early readers. This part of the process leaves me feeling as if I’m entering a little limbo, breaking through the fog of close proximity to the manuscript. Lift-off. As I glance back at the trajectory that has brought me to this point, I think I can begin to see what the novel looks like from a remove.