Former acting editor Angela Meyer reviewed Alex Miller’s Miles Franklin-shortlisted novel Lovesong back in the November issue if Bookseller+Publisher magazine. Here’s what she had to say:
Alex Miller returns to the realms of romance and desire, longing and solitariness, transience and creativity in his new deep, yet playful novel Lovesong; sure to appeal widely through its astute charm and emotional essence. The bulk of the story features John and Sabiha, an Australian man and Tunisian woman who meet in Paris where Sabiha helps run a restaurant with her widowed aunt, Houria. The imbalances of even the most loving relationships are explored through John and Sabiha—longing for distant homelands, compromise, and difficulty conceiving. Miller’s soft, unhindered prose really comes alive when the complications of secret desires and longing are introduced. The secret inner life is a common theme in Miller’s work, which always holds fascination. The other parts where descriptions are apt, are expressions of solitariness—both loneliness and an aloneness that is by selection. What’s different about this novel is that the main story is told through another character, Ken, an ageing writer in Melbourne, who meets the couple later in life and is drawn to their story due to the ‘sadness in the depths of [Sabiha’s] dark brown eyes’. The author, Ken, is as such admitting that he seeks the story behind the story, the secrets behind the façade of everyday life. This structure is also cheeky in a way, as Ken quotes Lucien Freud: ‘Everything is autobiographical, and everything is a portrait’. Ken’s last book was called The Farewell and he wondered why critics never equated it with his retirement (Miller’s own last book was The Landscape of Farewell), but he does find that he can’t ‘not write’, and thus seeks (and constructs) the story of John and Sabiha. Ken, and also the reader, then get to live out someone else’s life and history, desires, and indiscretions. You could read it as a statement about fiction itself—derived from truths of the self, of people known and met, your own and others’ lives; but also from burning curiosity (the spark for the story being the sadness in Sabiha’s eyes). ‘My life is in my books’ notes Ken towards the end, an admission that the reader is free to interpret the work of the writer as coming from their own secret inner life. The intertwining stories are told with gentleness, some humour, some tragedy and much sweetness. Miller is that rare writer who engages the intellect and the emotions simultaneously, with a creeping effect.
Angela Meyer is a writer, blogger and former acting editor of Bookseller+Publisher magazine. This review first appeared in the November 2009 issue. You can read the April 2010 issue online here.