Fever of Animals (Paperback, en-Latn-AU language, 2015, Scribe Publications) 2 stars

For nearly five years I have wanted to write something about the surrealist painter Emil …

Elwood ennui

2 stars

[18 January 2023, Boonwurrung Country]

These remarks seem more review, I suppose, than close reading. So have a rating: straddling the slog of a one and the old two for well, I would not publish it, myself, in this state.

Allinson studs his book, very sparely, with breathtaking twists of phrase. The surrounding text is meticulously crafted also, and, I found (especially in the cases of the absolutely agonisingly autobiographically pitched Parts One and Three), disengaging.

It’s a multilayered grief text, but heavily filtered through themes of middleclass masculinity. Cultural cringe, even. The narrator is occasionally transposed to some other voice (slightly older Miles! slightly younger Miles! art critic Miles! potted historian Miles! translated scrap of this or that secondary source in the sole possession of Miles! gonzo journo Miles! Miles as Miles imagines his girlfriend would word him... travelogue Miles: miles of Miles...), without straying towards much of a range of perspective.

The Mileses into whose (un)confidence we are dumped are petulant in romance (we can only hope poor Alice, the ex, was not drawn from real life), and pretentious about art, with both aspects exquisitely, even just excruciatingly rendered. Indeed, the entire novel makes for a masterful character portrait overall, and is sincerely impressive.

However, the narrator’s personal relationships are too neatly mirrored by those of the obscure surrealist with whom he has become obsessed. The parallels are exhausting, if not exhaustive. They compound the time-hopping, dream-ridden fixation on reiterating the same kernel of a story. The tellings over are largely and unfortunately vacuous — more so than perhaps intended.

If you are into its particular cohort of navels, you will probably adore it. This feels a bit like reading Garner, I thought, a few pages before Allinson toasted Helen Garner. It is almost a Brow piece; (albeit) thirty times longer than it had to be, but for determination to impose a mood. This thing plods. With restrained power and precision.