Combined Reviews: The Low Road by Chris Womersley

low_road.jpg Reviews of The Low Road by Chris Womersley

[Winner of the 2008 Ned Kelly Award for Best First Novel.]

From the publisher's page: "A young petty criminal, Lee, wakes in a seedy motel to find a bullet in his side and a suitcase of stolen money next to him, with only the haziest memory of exactly how he got there. Soon he meets Wild, a morphine-addicted doctor who is escaping his own disastrous life. The two men form an unwilling, unlikely alliance and set out for the safety of a country estate owned by a former colleague of Wild's named Sherman.

"As they flee the city, they develop an uneasy intimacy, inevitably revisiting their pasts even as they desperately seek to evade them. Lee is haunted by a brief stint in jail, while Wild is on the run from the legacy of medical malpractice. But Lee and Wild are not alone: they are pursued through an increasingly alien and gothic landscape by the ageing gangster Josef, who must retrieve the stolen money and deal with Lee to ensure his own survival. By the time Josef finally catches up to them, all three men have been forced to confront the parts of themselves they sought to outrun.

"Part classic film-noir crime-thriller, part modern tale of despair and desperation, The Low Road seduces the reader into a story that unfolds and deepens hypnotically. This is a brilliant debut novel."


Louise Swinn in "The Age": "It is difficult to believe that The Low Road is a first novel. It has the controlled pacing of an experienced hand. With echoes of Peter Goldsworthy's Three Dog Night, Kenneth Cook's Wake in Fright and Cormac McCarthy's The Road, this is both modern tragedy and crime thriller. "Rife with images, it unfolds like a film. "As well as being a noir thriller, this is a violent, gritty and macabre study of the effects of crime on those who carry it out. There is little redemption, and escape appears elusive."
Graeme Blundell in "The Australian": "Chris Womersley begins The Low Road in a classic crime-thriller, almost film-noir style, its shadowy setting in what may be a dystopian Melbourne. It could also be Boston, Brisbane or Birmingham. Or what W.H. Auden called 'the Great Wrong Place'...Womersley writes with quirky sparkling detail. Fringe suburbs are places of failure, suspicion and negect. Car parks hum in their particular fluorescent silences, all angles and dark solids. Ribbons of highway unrave through wet suburbs. And bus shelters, with a scuffle of soft-drink-cans beneath wire seats, stink of domestic misfortune."
"Australian Crime Fiction Database": "The Low Road is a dark chronicle of a brief life on the run as two men try to escape the consequences of their own weaknesses with a misguided belief that salvation is their destiny. Chris Womersley has written a confronting debut novel that offers little hope for the two central characters, pacing them along their desolate road, merely observing their desperate journey. This is an Australian noir thriller in the tradition of Jim Thompson's The Getaway told in a rich, lavish voice."

Short Notices

Readings bookstore: "Part classic film-noir crime-thriller, part modern tale of despair and desperation, The Low Road seduces the reader into a story that unfolds and deepens hypnotically. This is a brilliant debut novel."
Debra Adelaide in "The Australian": "On the cover of this book are the usual claims re brilliant first novel, gripping, hypnotic, thrilling, and so on. This time you can believe every word. In some ways it's a merciless read, taking you by the throat and not letting go for a minute. For a better scene you could not go past chapter 10 which, in a few thousand words, offers an entire history of two older characters, their old uneasy alliances, the bitter as well as the quietly amusing shared memories, the mutual distrust despite all of that, then the truly shocking end."
"First Tuesday Book Club": "The story is dark and cold. The characters are all tortured and scared, have done terrible, unspeakable things yet you still want them to escape and be given a chance at happiness and redemption. But who will live and what horrible actions will they be forced to make to ensure this survival?..The Low Road is an engrossing, confronting and excellent novel from a talented young Australian writer."


"The Age":

As we chat, the evolution of The Low Road, and Womersley's approach to the writing process comes up a number of times. The antipathetic relationship between the planning and the organic growth of the narrative seems central to his writing experience.

"It's a faith thing I think," he says. "At one point I had the rather dispiriting experience of getting to 30,000 words and not knowing where to go.

"You move into the story and hope it reveals itself to you as you go. You hope for that moment where the book develops an appetite, where everything feeds into it, music or art, other books, films you're watching, where it develops its own momentum."
"I toyed with creating a fictional place but it never really rang true. The novel was almost always going to be in a non-time and non-place. In my own mind I'd initially conceived of characters moving through an underworld in a number of different ways, as if they were already dead and moving through an alternate reality, a strata where common rules don't really apply any more."

With that in mind I mention that I'd pictured the seedy motel at the book's beginning somewhere on the Hume Highway beyond Bell Street, and he laughs.

"Coburg was one of the places I had in mind. And the house that they escape to is loosely based on a house where I spent time in Castlemaine. But more than creating a sense of place, for their trip out of the city I wanted to have that sense of moving backwards in time."

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on October 1, 2008 11:31 AM.

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