A Common Loss by Kirsten Tranter

Last night at a glamorous party at Shearer’s Bookshop in Sydney’s Leichhardt, writer Malcolm Knox launched Kirsten Tranter‘s new novel A Common Loss. It’s hot off the press – Shearer’s is the first bookshop to have copies – and so I haven’t yet read it, but it looks beautiful and sounds intriguing, like a thriller, like my kind of book. Here’s what the blurb says:

‘THEY WERE ORIGINALLY FIVE. Elliot. Brian. Tallis. Cameron. And Dylan – charismatic Dylan – the mediator, the leader, the man each one turned to in a time of crisis. Five close friends, bonded in college, still coming together for their annual trip to Las Vegas.

This year they are four. Four friends, sharing a common loss: Dylan’s tragic death. A common loss that, upon their arrival in Vegas, will bring with it a common threat: one that will make them question who their departed friend really was, and whether he is even worthy of their grief.’

Kirsten Tranter and Malcolm Knox

Malcolm Knox spoke with his usual wit and verve, starting with his own stories of Las Vegas and Bob Stupak’s Vegas World, saying that unlike Bob, who in 1989 won the World Series of Poker, he was less of a gambler and more of a ‘lurker and looker’ while in town. Malcolm called Vegas a ‘laboratory of human experimentation’, with ‘amazing stories everywhere you look’ – and it is here in this laboratory that A Common Loss is mostly set.

As the blurb says, one of the group of five friends – Dylan – is no longer with them. Malcolm talked of how the missing Dylan’s presence haunts the remaining four friends and the novel. He said the novel beautifully evokes the sense of lost love, of lost time – that ‘ache of loss’ which isn’t contained in the words of the novel but exists somewhere behind them.

It seems that A Common Loss is, above all, about friendship – and, riffing on the truism that ‘you can choose your friends but not your family’, Malcolm said the young adult friendships the novel portrays are as ‘potent and unchosen as family’. As Malcolm spoke, I thought how very apt it was that he was launching this novel, about the fated friendships of youth, about lost love; I thought how well he spoke about it, knew it, because this is the subject matter of his first novel, Summerland.

And I thought last night while Malcolm was speaking so vividly about A Common Loss and even more so this morning when I was reading its first chapter, which is charged, riveting, what fascinating and rich subject matter these ‘unchosen’ (because somehow ‘meant’)  friendships of youth are. I cannot wait to return to A Common Loss. Malcolm called it ‘a superb novel’ – many of you will say it’s ‘the best book you’ll read this year’ – and praised Kirsten’s many talented selves, including among many others ‘the brainiac Kirsten’ and ‘the novelist Kirsten’.

When Kirsten spoke she said of Vegas that it’s overrepresented and overmediated – and that in reality it is both darker and brighter than it’s portrayed. She heartily thanked her publisher, HarperCollins, and her editors Linda Funnell, Jo Butler and Nicola O’Shea, and many others. But she saved her biggest thanks for a young academic she’d known in the United States who confided to her what he was doing with his friends in the spring break. His story was the seed of her novel.

As I said, I can’t wait to read A Common Loss. Here’s how it begins:

‘The surprising weight of the animal is the thing that strikes me most. My shoulders, neck, arms, all strain with the effort of trying to lift it even an inch or two off the road, enough to get any traction. I exhale, loosen my hold, and try again, but it won’t budge. Patches of its fur are bright in the surrounding darkness as though spotlit, as though the car headlights are still on and bearing down on it, but that can’t be right. A sense of panic edges in as I contemplate the impossibility of the task. It is too heavy. But if we leave it here, someone else will crash into it.’

Shona Martyn, Kirsten and Malcolm

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