Combined Reviews: Autumn Laing by Alex Miller

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autumn_laing.jpg    Autumn Laing
Alex Miller
Allen & Unwin

From the publisher's page:
Autumn Laing has long outlived the legendary circle of artists she cultivated in the 1930s. Now 'old and skeleton gaunt', she reflects on her tumultuous relationship with the abundantly talented Pat Donlon and the effect it had on her husband, on Pat's wife and the body of work which launched Pat's career. A brilliantly alive and insistently energetic story of love, loyalty and creativity.

Autumn Laing seduces Pat Donlon with her pearly thighs and her lust for life and art. In doing so she not only compromises the trusting love she has with her husband, Arthur, she also steals the future from Pat's young and beautiful wife, Edith, and their unborn child. Fifty-three years later, cantankerous, engaging, unrestrainable 85-year-old Autumn is shocked to find within herself a powerful need for redemption. As she begins to tell her story, she writes, 'They are all dead and I am old and skeleton-gaunt. This is where it began...'

Written with compassion and intelligence, this energetic, funny and wise novel peels back the layers of storytelling and asks what truth has to do with it. Autumn Laing is an unflinchingly intimate portrait of a woman and her time - she is unforgettable.


Michael McGirr in "The Age": "At one level, this is a book about visual art, a passion that has sustained a good deal of Miller's fiction. Works such as The Sitters and Prochownik's Dream deal front and centre with the experience of art and the cost of its making. Miller may be a prolific author but nothing in his work ever feels rushed: every moment of significance is given due weight and reverence...Autumn Laing is more than just beautifully crafted. It is inhabited by characters whose reality challenges our own."

Morag Fraser in "The Australian Book Review": "The glory of the novel is that the explorations are so fully embodied in characters who are not just credible, but also smartingly alive. You can see them, smell their breath, argue with their opinions, taste their blood, stare down a wild boar with them, mourn their passing. Autumn herself is cranky, cruel, often vile-tongued - and given scope to be so, because in her various modes she is the novel's dictating voice. But there is always, in her, a whip crack of self deprecation, a down-to-earth ribaldry and switchback intelligence that rescues her from afflatus...All of Alex Miller's wisdom and experience - of art, of women and what drives them, of writing, of men and their ambitions - and every mirage and undulation of the Australian landscape are here, transmuted into rare and radiant fiction. An indispensable novel."

Patricia Maunder on ABC Radio National's "The Book Show": "At about 450 pages, it's surprising how little actually happens in Autumn Laing, and yet how captivating it is. Of course there's drama; it's about an adulterous affair in the art world after all, but this novel very much dwells in the inner world of creativity, emotion and wisdom...Alex Miller shows extraordinary technical skill in deftly switching between Autumn's past, presented as quite formal third-person narration; and present, told in intense, immediate first-person monologue. It's a remarkably effective structure, as it gives real weight to the story. The actions and emotions surrounding the affair are not fleeting and inconsequential, but reverberate across the decades, weighing the ailing but still feisty Autumn down. Her complex, often contrary feelings of bitterness, ardour, guilt and mirth become almost tangible, hardened and polished by time."

Janine Burke in "The Monthly": "Miller has fun with his cast of characters and humour, while black, ripples through the narrative, leavening Autumn's more corrosive judgements and insights. Miller engages so fully with his female characters that divisions between the sexes seem to melt away and all stand culpable, vulnerable, human on equal ground. Miller is also adept at taking abstract concepts - about art or society - and securing them in the convincing form of his complex, unpredictable characters and their vivid interior monologues."

Mark Robbo from Readings bookshops: "One of the initial temptations in embarking on this novel is to fit Miller's characters to the real life characters of Sunday and John Reed's world but it is to Miller's credit that this desire fades and it his characters that truly matter. Autumn Laing is Miller's most accomplished and ambitious novel to date."


Mark Robbo from Readings bookshops.

Andrew Stephens in "The Age".

Fran Metcalf in "The Herald-Sun".

Neda Vanovac in "Meanjin".


Alex Miller has written a short piece about how he came to write this novel. It has been published on "The Bennett Blog".

And he also writes about the novel on his own weblog.

You can read an extract from the novel that was published in The Australian newspaper in May 2011.

On "YouTube" you can watch the author reading from his novel, and discussing the work at Shearer's Bookshop in Sydney.

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on January 12, 2012 5:31 PM.

Reprint: Correspondence: A New Name for New South Wales by Douglas B. W. Sladen was the previous entry in this blog.

Reprint: Review. A Poetry of Exiles and Other Poems by Douglas B. W. Sladen is the next entry in this blog.

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