The Dead Heart by Douglas Kennedy
On my wedding anniversary, and having stocked up on coffee (a flat white) and cake (a delicious orange carrot cake), I decided that a visit to our local charity shop was definitely in order to peruse the novels there. Over the years, I've picked up some gems and was delighted to spot the first novel written by one of my favourite authors. This is going to be a strange review for me as I felt quite dirty after reading this book.
Plot (from the back of the book)
That map had been a serious mistake.
The map in question, stumbled across in a second-hand bookshop by American journalist Nick Hawthorne, en route to another dead-end hack job in Akron, Ohio. Seduced by all that wilderness, all that nothing. Nick decides to put his midlife crisis on hold and light out to the ultimate nowheresville - where a chance encounter throws him into a sun-baked orgy of surf, sex, swill and a nightmare from which there is no escape.
This is a truly hard book to like, but not for the reasons you think. It leaves you feeling as dusty and grimy as the red sand and the stench of the garbage dump in Wollanup, (the town featured), hangs over you. It is not pleasant at all, but it is a testimony to one of the most under-rated authors.
This is Douglas Kennedy's first novel, and it from here that we can witness those green shoots, ideas and fragments that will make up his sublime future novels. Consider a man dissatisfied with his life, a comment on the rat race that sometimes makes up life, an unusual location and exploration of relationships.
Nick is a great character, honest and actually not that pleasant. But strangely likeable with a wry sense of gallows humour. It is unflinchingly honest, especially in Nick's approach to sex and women and which will come back to bite.
The descriptions of the landscape are beautifully written. It's noir but with that blinding Australian wilderness of reds and yellows. These are told so vividly, I almost wanted to shield my eyes from the glare. The atmosphere is sweaty, griminess. I found myself wanting a good shower after reading it.
But the storytelling is wonderful and absorbing. Douglas Kennedy remains one of my favourite novelists and it was fab to be re-acquainted with where this all started. I have such an appreciation for his writing, but this was not an easy or pleasant read.