Combined Reviews: The Life by Malcolm Knox

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the_life.jpg    The Life
Malcolm Knox
Allen & Unwin

[This novel has been shortlisted for the 2012 Ned Kelly Award.]

From the publisher's page:
He looked into the Pacific and the Pacific looked back into him.

The Life tells the story of former-world-champion Australian surfer, Dennis Keith, from inside the very heart of the fame and madness that is 'The Life'.

Now bloated and paranoid, former Australian surfing legend Dennis Keith is holed up in his mother's retirement village, shuffling to the shop for a Pine-Lime Splice every day, barely existing behind his aviator sunnies and crazy OCD rules, and trying not to think about the waves he'd made his own and the breaks he once ruled like a god. Years before he'd been robbed of the world title that had his name on it - and then drugs, his brother, and the disappearance and murder of his girlfriend and had done the rest. Out of the blue, a young would-be biographer comes knocking and stirs up memories Dennis thought he'd buried. It takes Dennis a while to realise that she's not there to write his story at all.

Daring, ambitious, dazzling, The Life is also as real as it gets - a searing, beautiful novel about fame and ambition and the price that must sometimes be paid for reaching too high.


Stephen Romei for the "A Pair of Ragged Claws" weblog: " The Life is about something in which I have little interest - surfing - and yet I ripped through it in a couple of days, fast for me. That's the beauty of a good story isn't it? It can take to places you didn't think you wanted to go and pull you along with the power of its telling, and by the author's skillful exploitation of your need to know the answer to the old question: what happens next? And then?...The Life is an ambitious novel, in the sense that Knox makes the reader do some work. He switches between first person and third person narratives and this takes a little getting used to, but once you have it captures the terrible gulf between the great DK, king of the waves, and the fat slob (but not an uneducated man) hiding in his room at his old mum's. There's also a lot of repetition as DK goes through various routines, mental and physical, which is initially a little exasperating but the cumulative effect is a quietly powerful portrait of an OCD sufferer."

John Purcell on the "Booktopia Blog": "The Life, Knox's fourth novel, is a book like a wave. Telling the story of once world-champion surfer Dennis Keith, it gains momentum in the shallows of Coolangatta, crests at Hawaii during the first world title of the sport, then crashes down, leaving DK, as he is known, beached at a retirement village in his fifties, 18 stone and no longer able to stand up on a board, subsisting on a combination of pills, pine-lime Splices and hand-washing rituals. My eleven year old son took up surfing about a year ago. Or rather, it took him up... he has swiftly become entranced, obsessed, addicted to the sea, to the swell, to his board. At its core, The Life is about this addiction, about the ocean 'lit up with huge smashing sucking six-footers', about shutting your eyes and seeing 'easterly lines... (the) staircase outside the room was a six foot drop... grass bank in the lunch area was a fat shoulder ripe for a roundhouse cutback'; about how surfing reinvents you, 'like every wave was a new swipe with a big wet cloth on the blackboard.'"

Stu Nettle on the "Swellnet" weblog: "Admirably, Knox makes no concession to the non-surfer - the language is crude and entirely peculiar to surfers. The Life is written by someone who's sat behind the rocks at Snapper, understands the sand flow at Rainbow Bay, and has spent a lot of time around surfers. In stark contrast to Breath by Tim Winton, which contained florid descriptions of 'men dancing upon waves', The Life is written in the language of the line-up: 'I done this', 'yous done that'."

Geordie Williamson in "The Australian": "They mean the sport is beautiful to watch, but the analogy is more correct than they know...Waves are as regular and inexorable as a poetic line, and can vary as widely in form and intensity. Surfers are as much subject to their chosen wave as a poet is to a particular verse form. They may stamp physical rather than metrical feet in making their progress, yet they still inscribe hieroglyphs in the onrushing line, mundane or exquisite according to their skill and imagination...The point is worth labouring because Malcolm Knox's new novel is not entirely what it seems. Yes, it is an ardent evocation of Australian surf culture, from the 1950s to the present: an encyclopedic act of social and historical recall projected, like an old home-movie, on to the life of a Queensland surfer of singular talent...But in The Life, Knox has taken a milieu barricaded by private language and codes designed to repel outsiders and wannabes, and in which the insiders' Zen-like reverence for surfaces and the unarticulated act mock writerly eloquence, and made it the backdrop to a universal portrait of artistic obsession."


Fiona Capp for "Readings".
Stu Nettle on the "Swellnet" blog.
Nick Carroll for the "Financial Review".


Malcolm Knox discusses the issue of "Manhood" with Deborah Robertson at the 2012 Adelaide Writers' Week.

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on August 27, 2012 10:30 PM.

Toni Jordan Interview was the previous entry in this blog.

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