My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I think what’s interesting about a first novel is how you are introduced to a clear set of the author’s concerns. It is perhaps the book they have been dreaming about for many years. It is hard-laboured with publication hard-earned. They often have an autobiographical slant to them. There is a passion, encapsulated in book form, in what the writer wants to present to the world.
In Berndt Sellheim’s Beyond the Frame’s Edge, there is family drama, romance, dogs, rock climbing, house repairs, coffee and photography, set partly in Sydney but mostly in the Blue Mountains with a strong sense of place.
There is a hero’s journey, that of Adyn, returning to Australia unemployed from New York City, having inherited a family home, and looking for purpose: in love, in activity, in work? It’s not a laboured journey, and indeed not necessarily resolved by the end of the novel, but it was certainly a thread that I followed, as much as the main plot of family scheming and betrayals, I was drawn into the consciousness of this character – who was he and in what direction was he walking?
I found the balance between plot and a wider exploration of the world interesting. The story is constructed deftly, and the narrative propelled. The expression ‘page-turner’ has picked up certain connotations, but indeed, I was happy to turn the pages. I’m unsure whether I felt that some of the antagonists of the story were a bit simple: between the thug and the fundamentalist Christians (a worn trope I find), but perhaps I’m simply uneasy so many thugs and religious zealots seem to be out there, reported in our daily news, living simple violent and bigoted lives.
In any case, the story was certainly engaging enough to hang a book on. But I found myself moreso propelled by how beautiful and engaging the writing was itself, and the broad range of ideas and social commentary. The main voice, of Adyn, is a mix of wry observation (New York’s ‘spastic clutchings of an economic cardiac arrest’) and urgent poetry (‘Near silhouettes of leaf and limb caught in the early light. So precise. So expectant. Some precarious weight of existence…”).
There is the feeling of living through language, of a poet’s economy and rhythm, of a philosophical expansiveness and an heightened awareness of the senses of sight, smell and touch, particularly in describing scenes in the outdoors. It really is gorgeous writing, also because it doesn’t particularly draw attention to itself, but serves the characters and narrative.
I read the novel quickly but was happy that it stayed with me afterwards for a good length of time. I hope it gets a well-deserved readership to mark the arrival of such an intelligent and appealing new voice in Australian literature and novels.