Christos Tsiolkas is one of my heroes, a novelist of prodigious stylistic skills and immense courage. Even when his books baffle or thwart, I relish the reading experience. “7½” is one of his most left-field outings yet, a freewheeling mix of fiction writing, metafiction, nature writing, and memoir. Nothing much happens: a novelist, clearly the author, spends a few days at a self-imposed retreat on the Australian coastline, exulting in the natural world around him while sinking into powerful familial memories and sketching out a (familiarly Tsiolkian) novel about an ex-porn star. With a backdrop of our tumultuous Covid-beset, Trump-blighted and the narrator’s struggles with political engagement, the floating mix of strikingly lyrical “sinking into nature” scenes, the raw, sexually fervid recollections, and the glimpse of a writer writing via a work-in-progress … all this beguiled me without prying open my mind or heart. I would categorize 7½ as a fascinating byroad.