I do not move. I stand, and everything is taken from me. Someone else decides the distance between us. Whether an of us shall see each other again. Emptiness is everywhere. I inhabit no room, no town, no state. You who read these words, am I not fully absent from your space? What am I – what is my story – but the brief rattle of consonants at your lips? Murmurings. Hissings. My very name a faint hiss expiring. I am no longer a being. I am a passing thought struggling in my difficulty to remain alive a little longer. Turn the page. Begin another story. For I have worn down. Exhausted by the telling.
N isn’t a novel, so much as a tapestry. A huge, multi-layered tale woven fastidiously in a variety of different shades. Each character tells their own story, in their own tone, and each thread comes together to paint a picture of an Australia that might have been. That still may be our future. Starting with a boatload of refugee children, a political quandary sitting in Fremantle port, an artist watches the faces of the children. Making some sketches he is horrified to realise he can’t capture their identity, their humanity is absent from their eyes rendered in charcoal. He cannot capture the shade of the rust, he cannot lay specifics to this human tragedy that ends with the ship being towed back out to sea to sink with all on board. An MP, Normal Cole, dies leaving a hung parliament. In the political vacuum, mid World War II, a state of emergency is declared. The Governor General grants right wing MP Mahony the right to form an Emergency Cabinet, all parliamentary process suspended. The Japanese invade, unleashing human rights abuses, and a complicit Australian government watches on led by an increasingly insane PM. The individual loves, desires and needs of each character aren’t laid out against this backdrop, they are the backdrop. A national conversation about freedom of expression, art and that from which we avert our gaze. The personal is political and the political is as personal as it can get. N is a stunning work, intricate, deeply political and beautifully, heart-breakingly written. It was a long, slow read, but all the more enjoyable for it. This is a book that will inform the way you see the world. A novel for activists and poets. As I read the final chapters, this petition on the Federal Government’s approach to art surfaced. The world is telling us what Scott has created isn’t fiction. It is a cautionary tale fully versed in our current reality. And we’d do well to heed it.
N, John A Scott: five stars.
Read it: just read it.