Go to bed with a good book? No thanks
Sydney Morning Herald
Wednesday September 9, 2009
Romantic love has never been less fashionable in Australian fiction, writes Matt Buchanan. ROMANTIC love is not so much absent from Australian literature as persistently truant.We have no D.H. Lawrence and no Leo Tolstoy. And we have yet to read an Australian chronicler of love in its domestic setting as sharp-eyed as Alice Munro, or of infidelity so involved as John Updike.Further, romantic love has never been less fashionable in Australian fiction, as a subject or a concept. The Australian academy has continued to produce writers and readers who write and read politically; and a decade of detention centres, climate change, a war on terrorism €“ and two real wars €“ has given them political issues to dwell upon. Love is joy and joy is banished in such a climate. And in the wider, increasingly medicalised culture, romantic love itself appears to have been bumped from the realm of poetry to that of psychiatry: romantic love is now held to be a sickness characterised by dependency and obsession; a treatable passion.As for that other component of literary love €“ literary sex €“ Australian dirty realism so overdid it in the '90s that the pages are probably still stuck together.Interestingly, the few Australian authors who did at the very least dabble with romantic love are among our best. Tim Winton's Dirt Music gave us a burst of passion between strangers but left the relationship behind to explore its legacy. In 2008, Christos Tsiolkas's The Slap looked at marriages splitting under pressure and its enormous success might yet herald a return to domestic realism.In 2004 Luke Davies, whose lyrical novel Candy was the best of the dirty realist brigade in the 1990s, published a long love poem, Totem, an exuberant Edenic fantasia bursting with sensuality and joy. And then in 2006 Peter Carey gave us Theft: A Love Story, the unauthentic nature of its central romance helping make plain the real theme of the book: identity.Australia in its modern context is an adolescent nation €“ an adolescent nation brought up for a long time in a conservative family. Like all adolescents, we think about sex a lot but we are coy about love.