Last night Christos Tsiolkas launched Malcolm Knox’s wonderful new novel The Life – about a washed up former surfing champion, the legendary Dennis Keith. Christos paid tribute to Malcolm as the Australian writer who challenges him to be a better writer, as his mentor and as a writer who makes the English language sing. Christos said that when he was overseas last year (writing in Scotland and promoting his bestselling novel The Slap) he would always answer ‘Malcolm Knox’ to questions about which Australian novelists people should be reading.
Christos gave The Life the following rap:
‘For many years now when asked which are the contemporary Australian writers I admire, Malcolm Knox is always one of the first I name. His new novel, The Life, is alternately evocative and lacerating, tender and unflinching, a gloriously honest, brutal and moving story of a man who was at the top of his game and then pissed it all away. The voice in this novel is urgent, the pace propulsive and the experience of reading it is thrilling. This is the work of a master storyteller and writer, the work of someone who deeply cares and is committed to language. This is a book from someone at the top of their game. The Life is wonderful, and Malcolm Knox is one of the best novelists writing in the world today. That’s not opinion, that’s fact.’
I read an early draft of The Life and was instantly sucked in by its vividly realised narrator, Dennis Keith, as he began to unfold his life from its trashy present in a retirement village with his mother to his past as a god of the waves. I couldn’t believe these two unlikely characters – Dennis and his mother – could be so instantly gripping and likeable. But conjuring people in all their warm vitality and idiosyncratic quirkiness with the snap of his pen is one of Malcolm’s great gifts as a writer. The other, for me, apart from the supreme precision and playful pleasure with which he uses words, is his canny humour and comic timing. Lines like this ‘He looked into the Pacific, and the Pacific looked back into him’ make my blood sing.
The Life also has one of my favourite covers around – topped only by what’s surely the best cover line ever: ‘… if Winton is an aria, Knox is early Rolling Stones’. Sigh.
For more on The Life, check out Booktopia where Malcolm answers Six Sharp Questions.