Saturday, October 23, 2010

After January, by Nick Earls

First published 1996, University of Queensland Press

A glimpse into a couple of weeks of one boy’s summer – wonderfully evocative, funny and intelligent, and a fine example of how stories don’t have to be about the big things to make an impact.
School is over for Alex Delaney, he’s waiting for his university offer, and the waiting is killing him. This is all After January is. Bring in a girl – graceful, golden-skinned, gorgeous – and let the reader see how it doesn’t always have to be about sex, big declarations of love, and complicated romantic sentiment, for two teenagers to establish a connection and provide that little bit of clarity, of assurance, the other needs.
Alex and Fortuna’s relationship won me over because it felt more like a bond, an attraction that they let grow and develop and didn’t try to make something grandiose out of – they just let it be what it was. All the other relationships running through this book are equally as enjoyable and rewarding.
I love the dynamic between Len and Alex, and I love the relationship between Alex and his Mum and how the way he views her subtly shifts towards the end of the novel. When they talk to each other it feels real, like something I might hear between my brother and my own Mum – constantly taking the piss, but always with affection. I love Alex’s induction into Fortuna’s family, and the fondness she has for her own father. All the characters feel real and familiar, but are never caricatures. They are all a pleasure to read about, and their dialogue sparkles and snaps of the page.
There is a stream of consciousness feel to this book, but Earls keeps it taut and honest. Alex’s observance of and insights into the world around him are a gem – hilarious without being smug, and comfortingly familiar. I think the real winner in After January  is the way Earls makes Alex step back and take a look of himself, but never indulgently, always with a kind of charming self-deprecating knowingness.
There is a leisurely, drawling feel to After January, but still it never drags. It just lures you in to the heat and the haze and the glittering water and the lazy market days and the toast and tea on the back porch. I loved it because these kind of days are familiar to me and Earls captures them in a way that is both affectionate and wistful.
After January is subtle, affecting and gently witty. I highly recommend.

"Potter's itch is just a joke for visiting yuppies. Don't say it to Alex, Dad. Not a day for jokes, hey Big? Not for yours, Cliffie."

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