Lovesong by Alex Miller

Courtesy Allen & Unwin

Deservedly shortlisted for the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards 2010, Lovesong by Alex Miller is a beautiful book celebrating the complexities of love.

Miller
wrote the book in two years for no other reason than his own pleasure and
describes the final result as being more complicated that he first set out for
it to be.
There
are stories within stories but in the hands of this masterful storyteller, the
lines are seamless.
About Lovesong
Lovesong opens with Ken, a writer, widower and father living with his
grown-up daughter Clare in suburban Melbourne. He is on the verge of
retirement; his storytelling days are over, or so he thinks.
While
swimming laps at the local pool he meets John, an Australian in his late
forties, and his young daughter, darker in skin tone than John. He recognises
them from his visits to the pastry shop which is run by the self-possessed and
exotic Sabiha.
As
their friendship grows, John opens up and tells Ken the story of his life with
Sabiha, of how they met in the Tunisian quarters of Paris whilst he was
backpacking through Europe as a young man. Sabiha worked in her aunt’s café
Chez Dom and fed home-baked meals to the North African immigrants working at
the abattoirs of Vaugiraud. She would also sing for them the songs from their
homeland.
It
was the rain that drove John to seek shelter at the café, and the mutual
attraction with Sabiha was instant. They marry, and when her aunt dies, Sabiha
and John take over the running of the café and try desperately for a child. It
is when the child doesn’t come that the story switches up a notch. John wants
to return to Australia but Sabiha will not think of leaving until she has had a
child to take home and show her aging and sick father in Tunisia. Their future
seems hopeless.
Whose Story is it to Tell?
As
John’s story unfolds, a story that he needs to get off his chest, Ken listens
with the ear of a writer and finds himself draw back into the desire to write
again, to retell this love story in his own words.
In
Lovesong, Miller asks the
questions, what is his story, what is her story and whose story is it to tell
anyway? At the risk of ruining the ending, suffice to say Miller turns a simple
love story into something more autobiographical by bringing in the character
Ken and his desire to write stories.
In
an interview on ABC radio with Ramona Koval, 11 November 2009, Millers states,
“The thing is, writers celebrate people’s stories, and if writers don’t
celebrate the stories, if they don’t write them, they don’t get written, they
remain told or untold.”
About Alex Miller
Miller
is one of Australia’s most prestigious writers. Lovesong has been shortlisted for the 2010 Prime Minister’s
Literary Awards, which is the most lucrative of the Australian awards with AUD
$100,000 prize money up for grabs. Lovesong
was also shortlisted for the 2010 Miles Franklin
Award but lost out to Peter Temple with his novel Truth.
Miller
has been a previous winner of the Miles Franklin Award with his novels Journey
to the Stone Country
in 2003 and The Ancestor Game in 1993.
He
also has a long list of acclaim for his novels Landscape of Farewell, Prochownik’s Dream, Conditions of Faith, The
Sitters, The Tivington Nott
and Watching the Climbers on the
Mountain
.
Lovesong (Allen & Unwin, 2009, ISBN:978174237 1209 (hb), 354 pages).
My rating:  ★★★★★

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