About Me

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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. My latest books are THE TYRANNY OF OPINION: CONFORMITY AND THE FUTURE OF LIBERALISM (2019); AT THE DAWN OF A GREAT TRANSITION: THE QUESTION OF RADICAL ENHANCEMENT (2021); and HOW WE BECAME POST-LIBERAL: THE RISE AND FALL OF TOLERATION (2024).

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Currently reading: Sea Hearts by Margo Lanagan

I am currently reading Sea Hearts (published in the UK and US as The Brides of Rollrock Island) by much-awarded novelist Margo Lanagan.

As I've previously mentioned, Margo will be a writer-in-residence for the Hunter Writers' Centre just a few weeks away now, and we're all looking forward to having her stay here in Newcastle, where she was born and grew up. If any Newcastle-based people are reading this, do please pass on the news.

My verdict on the book? I loved it. It's a fantasy novel, but not in the sense of high fantasy like J.R.R. Tolkien, or in the style of Conan/Elric/whatever sword and sorcery, or, indeed, like any other stereotypical form of the genre that you might think of. (Note, though, that I have nothing against heroic fantasy, and I've written some myself. It's just that Sea Hearts is not at all an example.)

Margo Lanagan has provided a rather grim tale of cruelty, alienation, and protracted revenge, stretching over the long life of its central character. Much like witnesses in a courtroom, narrators from different generations recount their involvement in the magical, tragic course of events. Only we, the readers, get to piece together our various understandings of the full story and why it happened as it did. Although the effects produced are not exactly horrific, what unfolds is terrifying in a quieter way. In fact, Sea Hearts displays one of the hallmarks of horror fiction in its many forms: the intrusion of something apparently demonic into our ordinary, human world, with dreadful results for everyday, flawed, complicated people.

As a twist, however, those characters who appear, from others' perspectives, alien and malevolent are themselves unhappy, deeply alienated beings. They are victims of their own circumstances and limitations, and of others' ignorance, selfishness, or emotional hardness.

For some reason, Margo Lanagan is mainly promoted as a writer for Young Adults... and I'm fine with bright teenagers reading and enjoying her work, including this book (though I suspect that many inexperienced readers, whatever their ages, will find aspects of it difficult). Be that as it may, I think Sea Hearts should also be read by adults. It is absorbing, intriguing, and thought provoking - how far do the relationships depicted, especially those between the sexes, mirror, in a distorted way, those in our own non-magical world? It's a book worth lingering over, savouring, and discussing.

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