This striking debut novel by poet and Steve
Bracks' speechwriter Deane exposes a mythical outer-suburban housing
estate in somewhere (anywhere), Australia. Teenage protagonist Toby is
a pacifist stranded in a sea of violence. His scars, arising from a mysterious
accident, fascinate young Suzie.
Self-harming Suzie pushes Toby into deeper and deeper water, until even murder seems just a precursor to something worse. Side characters are finely drawn, as is the concept of multi-generational domestic abuse and overheated, under-resourced locale. At times, a theme of ghostly indigenous children distracts you from the main narrative, but this winner of the IP Fiction Prize represents a fresh, compelling voice in contemporary Australian fiction. Not for the squemish.
– Jen Jewel Brown, Melbourne Weekly
Perhaps there is no more barren or
bleak than a new subdivision on the edge of suburbia where no one but
the poor would want to live. Toby's girlfriend Suzie is pregnant but
doesn't know it yet. The tiny foetus is the novel's occasional first-person
voice, with a connectedness to the ghosts of the past and future. Beneath
the concrete and tar were once trees, animals and a poisoned swimming-hole
where Aboriginal children floated dead into the arms of
their wailing parents. The unborn child is the sole flicker of hope in Another, with a will to live and love of its life-to-be.
Suzie, on the other hand likes the idea of suicide, but it mainly content to cut herself with a razor, carving away all the ugly memories and forming careful patterns. She likes scars, and she like Toby for his scarred back, badly burned as a child. Toby does a bit of stealing and likes the sensation of striking an unconscious man's head repeatedly with a metal bar, for the unfamiliar feeling of power; an expression of the helplessness in his tormented past.
Another is a brutal novel, full of violence and hatred. Yet
everything about it is true and clearly recognisable, from daily news reports if not from one's own life. The characters are on a descending spiral and Joel Deane seems to know them better than they will ever know themselves.
People like Toby and Suzie might never pick up a book to read, and they don't want to know or care what others think, but the rest of us need to know what makes them that way. Another is a book for young adults who love words put in the right order, often poetic, telling a shocking story with a profound clarity of voice and vision.
– Margot Nelmes, Reading Time
Another is a suburban estate, but it could also double for one of the smaller circles in Hell. The tale reads like as if it was made for a television drama or short film, the kind you come out of feeling slightly soiled by the sheer ugliness of it all. Toby and Suzie are the the main characters, two teenagers from the wrong side of the tracks with no hope and a future so bleak as to make a stone weep. The casual violence and pointless wanderings, theft and emotional abuse are described in careful detail with a nod to urban lyricalism which underscores the grinding misery of their lives. It's not pleasant reading, but it is compelling.
– Cara Willetts, Abbey's Advocate
'Fire. I see fire – the purest image – so
that is where I must begin.' This is one of the opening sentences in
Joel Deane's debut novel Another. The question foremost in my mind is
who? Where who must begin? And this is a question that plagues me throughout
On the surface, Deane's story seems to be a sad book relating the lives of a family of tortured souls. Yet to grasp fully the meaning of this book one needs to delve much deeper. It is not an easy book to read, but that does not mean it is not well-written or clever, merely that it takes effort to fully comprehend what it is trying to do.
We are quickly introduced to the lives of the main characters. Toby is an adolescent struggling to deal with the loss of his brother – although we are not told exactly where Danny is or why he is gone. He shares a house with his dying gran, his aging mum and his brother's hopeless ex, Michelle. These characters are struggling with the shadows and ghosts of their pasts, and they do not seem endeared to each other.
Toby has a girlfriend, Suzie, who works at McDonald's. All they appear to have in common are their emotional and physical scars. Suzie's mum is absent, as is Toby's father, but Suzie is more bothered about this than Toby. She constantly makes up stories about her 'glamorous' mother, but reading between the lines, her mother purposefully abandoned her. And Toby, although apparently unaffected by the absence of his father, is constantly thinking about Danny, his big brother and hero.
Symbolically, both Toby and Suzie also boast physical scars. We come to the conclusion that Toby's scars are the result of a fire, although Deane builds up the suspense by giving the reader snippets of information about this fire, while not revealing the truth until the end. Suzie's scars are perhaps more disturbing as hers are self-inflicted. She carries around a razor to cut her skin and is obsessed with Toby's scars, even asking him to give her one. Ironically, unlike the other males portrayed in the novel, Toby does not want to inflict physical pain on Suzie.
Interspersed throughout the main story of Toby and Suzie, the omniscient, unidentified narrator tells the stories of Gran, Mum and Michelle – three generations of women who have ruined their lives due to their attachments to abusive men. These men become the ghosts and shadows of the past, continually haunting the family. The shadow of a man carrying a jerry can and a shot gun is highlighted frequently, raising questions in my mind, but Deane does not give away the answers easily. With each reference to this shadow, we come a little closer to the truth of the fire, Danny, and the psychological issues that face Toby and Mum. The message is apparently that all love starts out well but eventually all men become abusive. There are no representations of positive men in the novel and this is slightly surprising considering its creator is a man.
Reading Another, I struggled to pinpoint how it differed from other stories in which abuse and violence permeate the narrative. Then it hit me. Although all the central characters are exploited through either schoolyard bullying, domestic violence or self-mutilation, nothing about any of them makes me very sympathetic. Except perhaps one.
As the story progresses, more clues are given about the identity of the narrator and this was even more disturbing than the crude language and shocking occurrences of the plot. The narrator is the voice of sense throughout all the horror. 'Toby does not see the shadow, but I do. I see what has been and gone, leaving a ghostly mark – I see burning images of what has passed and what is yet to come as I labour to evolve into a form that is fit to be born.' The narrator is the unborn child of one of the characters; a voice that should be innocent but is tragically knowledgeable about a world of hurt, anger and despair.
Deane's choice of narration is innovative. When I looked passed the technicalities – how can an unborn baby know what others are thinking, feeling? – I was able to read this story on a totally new level. The purity of the narrator made me feel the story more deeply and made the inevitability of the outcome all the more disgusting.
Another is a cleverly-structured piece of dark realist literature, portraying the harsh realities of everyday life in a most visual manner. Deane succeeds in creating disjointed slices of reality that come together to both shock and haunt his readers.
– Rachael Blair, JAS
THESE FIRST NOVELS by Joel Deane, the Victorian premier’s speechwriter, and Merle Thornton, a former academic who famously chained herself to a male only bar in Brisbane, focus on radically different social groups. Deane’s Another is about two unemployed adolescents living in an outer Melbourne suburb bypassed by a freeway where the local McDonalds is the town’s nucleus. In After Moonlight, Thornton presents a bookstore browsing, duck eating, macchiato-sipping, Carltonish academic. (The novel is replete with such portmanteaux.) That both novels are set in the same city is a shock. Another commonality, more poignant, is a concern with the personal and the enduring effects of tragic pasts.
Deane’s novel explores this theme relentlessly. Its characters are scarred, both visibly and invisibly: Toby, the main protagonist, suffered bums in a house fire lit by his father; Toby’s girlfriend, Suzie, cuts out the pieces of skin her father, a paedophile, touches. Interwoven with their stories are those of others, telling of intergenerational abuse and suffering. Deane shows the insidious links between pain and anger, pain and guilt, pain and identity. The protagonists inflict harm on others and on themselves. Unable to escape the past, their present is a futureless limbo.
Deane portrays the entire community of Another, the novel’s eponymous setting, as stuck in the past, encroached upon by an alien future of suburban development. Another is a land of thongs, Monaros, paddocks, subdivisions, Pauline Hanson supporters and petty crime. Even the McDonalds drive through has an old fashioned fibreglass order box. This is, of course, an effect of endemic poverty (also linked to personal damage), and the novel’s mise en scéne is insistently poor and ugly. Toby lives in a caravan behind the house where his long suffering mother, his senile grandmother and his brother’s ex girlfriend Michelle uneasily cohabit. Toby’s brother is in a vegetative state in hospital following a motorcycle accident; his mother is the only breadwinner. In one scene, the characters are watching television: ‘Michelle is smoking, chin sunk into her jowls, flicking the ash into a dirty coffee mug, watching the telly through blue mascara squint holes. Roseanne lets rip with a one liner about loosemeat sandwiches and the show chops into an ad break, but Gran keeps staring at the screen.’ The characters change the channel with pliers before Toby smashes the television. There is skill here in arranging such a conglomeration of ugly images. But while this resembles Kath and Kim grotesquerie, it isn’t a joke. Michelle comes out with the Brandoesque ‘I could’ve been a hairdresser’, but her dreams and her inability to achieve them are tragedies.
The novel is filmic in its attention to detail and almost unremittingly bleak. However, despite the grotty realism, the narrative is interspersed with lyrical magical realist moments. At times a narrator, in utero, contemplates the cosmic wonder of life in lines that reveal Deane’s double life as a poet: ‘I see this day dying ... and find myself in love with [it] for no good reason.’ The unborn narrator also comments on Toby’s blindness to the future and the past, which includes, as well as his own family’s tragedies, crimes against Aborigines. Sometimes Toby does see the shadows of history that rise – like the undead, like sinister unreason – with the night. These interludes are reminiscent of those in Tim Winton’s Cloudstreet, which provides an interesting counterpoint. Deane’s novel represents a similar workingclass demographic, but rejects Winton’s heady romanticisation.
Another isn’t pleasant, but nor is it entirely satisfying. There are amateurish moments (‘Toby trails a greasy hand through the dirty blonde hair that falls across his grey eyes’), and the promise of lyrical force is not quite realised. The interweaving stories, however, are nicely structured, and the plot is well paced. Deane’s achievement is to humanise people most Australians don’t believe in, or perhaps only see in television caricatures or in video footage of service station robberies.
... [comments on After Moonlight]
Thornton is a well known feminist. Her novel contains the memorable line: “‘Family values” is code for “make women slave for their male rellies”. Deane’s book, however, is more explicit about the sins of men. In addition, while After Moonlight features affairs and quotations from Shakespeare, Another seems to have more faith in love, its romance reminding me of that famous passage from Romeo and Juliet: ‘He jests at scars, that never felt a wound. / But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks? / It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.’ Deane’s language is different: the two scarred and wounded lovers ‘went halvies on a cask of wine at the bottle shop, found a dark patch of grass, squirted long slashes of wine into each other’s open mouths, kissed, fucked, fell into a dizzy sleep as the Earth revolved beneath them’. But the sentiment, that moment of grace, of reprieve, is the same.
– Maria Takolander, The Australian Book Review
The community of Another is a bleak one
to be sure—a distopia which is all too real. Death is everywhere,
and those that hurt you most are those who should be protecting you.
The community is empty and disfunctional, and everyone we meet is poor,
damaged, and full of ugly pain and scars. It isn’t pretty, but
somehow Deane’s exquisite writing contains beauty that transcends
its setting, and hope which goes beyond the unhappy ending. Perhaps it’s
the way we are given a broader, bird’s eye perspective of history,
that we know that the events are already past--that time is in motion.
Or perhaps it’s the way the novel ends, as it begins, with smoke,
flames, and an impending birth.
Joel Deane has written a lyrical, powerful novel that is, in equal parts, utterly political, and rooted in that realm of human emotion which is above politics. It is a call to action for the atrocious world we’ve given our youth, and at the same time, a celebration of the beauty of humanity. It is easy and fast to read, and the kind of deep, intense experience which will stay with the reader for a long time.
– Maggie Ball, Compulsive
Deane’s poetry and fiction has a simultaneously
unflinching and gritty realism and a sophisticated lyric beauty that combines in an original, intense, and startling new voice.
– Charles Wilmoth, Intersection for the Arts, San Francisco
This is the rubble of suburbia, an Australia we are too smug to acknowledge, too scared to enter. Joel Deane has written a dark and moving novel about families on the margins.
– George Megalogenis, journalist and author of Faultlines
and Suzie are adolescent lovers exploring their newly-formed relationship
in the uninspiring location of Another, a typical Australian
suburb. The inevitable violence surrounding them is softened only by the
surreal back-drop of the Australian ‘bush’ encroaching—spiritually
and physically—upon the suburb as well as by the author’s sympathetic
treatment of the characters’ inner selves.
This daring novel moves quickly, taking us into the very heart of Another, compelling us to observe the destinies of the underprivileged, and ultimately trapped, inhabitants with an unsettling familiarity.
Despite the harsh realism of this novel, the short chapters and idiomatic dialogue sequences make it easy to read. It will appeal greatly to youthful readers who can relate to the pitfalls of life in the suburbs. It will also appeal to adult readers seeking to understand Australian cultural issues, in particular the generational cycle of violence.
Joel Deane is sending ripples through government corridors by bringing his
poetic writing skills to his new position, since July 2004,
as Speechwriter for Steve Bracks, the Victorian Premier.
This prestigious job follows a highly successful career as a journalist, executive news producer (San Francisco), and media advisor.
Born in Melbourne in 1969, Joel has long had a passion for literature. Samples of his poetry and short fiction have been published in Antipodes, Famous Reporter, Imago and Quadrant. Another is his first novel, and it won the IP Picks Award in 2004.
Joel lives in Melbourne with his wife and two children.
Have a look at Joel Deane's IP Picks Award Winning poetry collection Subterranean Radio Songs