Here, within the current day, with its current tense and ever-present “I”, there is no such thing as a grand narrative. No hubris or naiveté prepared (or wilfully silly sufficient) to attempt to create the novel that may comprise all personalities, all courses, all of the lives of the current. On this economic system, we reside for as we speak alone.
Kavita Bedford’s debut opens, thus, with little preamble, and fewer nonetheless any want to attempt to comprehend our post-postmodern universe past the neighbouring suburb or nearest road nook. Even the tense is discomfiting: “The yr after my father died, I transfer right into a share home.” The reader desires to rework the antecedent clause to the current, the succeeding to the previous; to take every temporal level and convey them collectively.
So, too, does the writer. This can be a novel in medias res (all the pieces is at all times already taking place). Its unnamed protagonist, who has not too long ago misplaced her father, remains to be processing. She desires issues to decelerate. She desires them to cease.
Life lived forwards and understood backwards, then. Which is sensible, in a metropolis like Sydney. Our narrator and her three flatmates are in gentrified Redfern, amongst its warehouse galleries and its warehouse events; its stylish bars (sometimes that includes menus with “a person consuming from a bunch of grapes dangling in entrance of a girl’s pussy”), its group gardens and, naturally, its “Fuck Gentrification” graffiti. Reminders of these left behind – the drunken commuter angling and stumbling by way of the stomach of the subway carriage; the younger man who has misplaced his mom however “anyway at some point I’ll be well-known and none of this may matter” – punctuate the panorama like This Is Not An Exit indicators.
Our characters are the kids of child boomers and Era X. They’ve inherited lots of their neuroses. Bedford’s novel – which has been picked up by Europa for an American launch, and gained reward from Jenny Offill – even has sure similarities with child boomer extraordinaire Martin Amis’ second, Lifeless Infants: not least of all its younger milieu and attunement to the depredations of sociosexual freedom, city alienation and characters who dream that their tooth are falling out.
Neoliberalism’s precarity forces them into unsure lives – however with good pores and skin, and nicer brunches. The housemates’ mates and neighbours are both vigorously screaming themselves into the oncoming site visitors, or in search of tans and new methods to keep away from having a nervous breakdown. Issues are accomplished to them, whilst (or as a result of) they’re at all times feeling the necessity to do issues for others. Outdated cultural measures and verities stay, though extra as quaint anachronisms (“Get a home, get a automotive”, to paraphrase Trainspotting; right here it turns into, “Why can’t I get a home? Why can’t I get a automotive?”). They resign themselves to working below-minimum wage jobs whereas BodyAttack courses and pop-up shops present an elusive sense of readability. They’re at all times optimising, or else being optimised.
Bedford handles all of this properly, with a form of Xanaxed power. Her narrator roves ceaselessly, in rhythms that owe a lot to late twentieth century American prose (see, for instance, Patrick Bateman’s communion with Bono in American Psycho). Every chapter performs out like a vignette, pantoum-like and recursive: at events, amongst housemates, with strangers, on trains. The protagonist is one thing of a bystander in her personal life, caught between the proximity of her 30s and recollections of her youth and childhood. Throughout such reveries, the allegiance to the novel’s de rigueur current tense narration – we sit, we stare, we are saying – briefly disappears, changed by social realism’s extra acquainted previous tense. Tellingly, aside from her housemates, all of her relationships and intimacies seem to exist there, prior to now tense, the place the cadences of emotion recollected in (one thing like) tranquility embody a relaxed her current maybe can’t maintain.
But Bedford’s ferris wheel of interviews, city statement, memory and sharehouse dialog can – over the course of greater than 200 pages – begin to really feel repetitive. Positive, there’s an preliminary rush of exhilaration when cracking the backbone of any new Australian fiction that isn’t narrated by the survivor of a mining tragedy whose father suicides within the wooden shed after a traumatic rabbit capturing incident – however solely preliminary. As its blurb advertises, this can be a novel extra involved with “sketching the contours” of its topics. Generally the elliptical strategy can seem to be an unwillingness to attract out implication; a reluctance on the writer’s half to probe her expertise. As a result of Bedford is proficient. However she performs it protected. Draining the blood and vigour from her prose, whether or not for concern of being “an excessive amount of”, or of taking the chance to flesh out her portraits, is an unlucky compromise for any author to should make, even when intentional.
The place Bedford shines is in detailing intimate human connection; these epiphanic shocks that minimize by way of affectations of irony and disinterest: a relationship that ends between an artwork gallery and the sale of a motorcycle. The loss of life of the narrator’s father (quietly, poignantly dealt with).
Bedford subtly explores, too, the vulnerabilities and risks, the unsure wishes, of being a younger girl. Searching for “pleasure with abandon” – or by no means being boring, because the Pet Store Boys’ post-party mantra had it – is a queasy, bittersweet comedown that Bedford, filtering her Didionesque prose (and her protagonist’s Didionesque generational cataloguing) by way of a wider emotional lens, excels at.
Social realism has at all times been invested in “approach we reside now” novels, in zeitgeist barometers. Naturally, no work of fiction can comprise all lives. What can? Like Helen Garner and Christos Tsiolkas’ personal debuts, Bedford’s is extra involved with taking the heart beat of younger, artistically-minded folks alive and struggling by way of the town’s battle, slipping and sinking by way of the every-nothing days of city anomie and insecure work and relationships. On this, her echelon is us – the younger, the hopeful, the precarious. The ever-present “I”.