Cory Taylor’s debut novel—the critically acclaimed Me and Mr Booker—was a brilliant and darkly comic coming-of-age story. My Beautiful Enemy, her second novel, is a story of love, desire and shame, set in a Japanese internment camp in regional Victoria during World War II. Arthur Wheeler is a young soldier who develops a life-changing infatuation with a Japanese youth, the stunningly beautiful and enigmatic Stanley. While Stanley’s beauty, antics (as a tennis-playing circus performer with a habit of escaping the camp) and sadness are mesmerising, Matron Conlon’s gin-soaked care, Bryant’s thuggish behaviour, and Baba-san’s tragic stoicism also evoke the complexities of war, as well as the horrors of ingrained racism and homophobia. Arthur’s own confused voice is central to these themes, and a painful journey of obsession and loss ensues as Arthur tries to recover from the war, from memories of his youth and his feelings for Stanley. Black humour is cunningly tangled with moments of sheer emotional devastation; Taylor crafts sentences of such sharpness and insight that I was forced to pause at moments to bask in the prose. My Beautiful Enemy is a heartfelt and beautifully written novel about love and war for readers of exquisitely crafted literary fiction.
Portia Lindsay is a former bookseller who now works at the NSW Writers’ Centre. This review first appeared in the Issue 1 2013 of Books+Publishing magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.