Denizen by James McKenzie Watson [5/10]

Debut novel “Denizen” is a dark, dark, in-depth dive into mental ill-health in the hellish Australia of remote outback towns. I’m unsure if I’ve ever read anything as boldly stark in Australian literature; the closest would be the American novelist, David Vann. The author throws everything at the reader, a torrent of lyricism in or around the head of the first-person narrator, Parker, whom we first meet as a nine-year-old in nowhere-land Colladai with a volatile mother, and then as a young father in Sydney with a baby, and then as a hiker with old friends back home. Parker’s narrative is like his head, ducking back and forth in time, paced fast at the start and then accelerating. This reader rushed to the end, borne along by the fervor and plot, so in one sense, the novel succeeded. I only wish the endless dramas in Parker’s head were more deftly spilled, Denizen containing far too much “voices in the head” dialogue. And the plot twists, shocking as they were, felt as artificial as Parker himself. Recommended (if only to announce a talent) with caveats.

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