FICTION: In the Land of the Moon, Miles Allinson, Scribe, $ 29.99
Miles Allinson’s novels detail quests without conclusions. Their narrators, focused on near-mania, pursue private obsessions as life crumbles around them. In Allinson’s early days, Animal fever, it was the search for the late surrealist painter Emil Bafdescu that gave meaning to the chaotic life of a young man. Its follow-up, In the Land of the Moon, sees the research turn inward, towards the family, while keeping the insoluble mystery of his previous work.
In the Land of the Moon The opening sentence strikes a special note and holds it over 250 pages: “In March 1996, a few months before driving into a tram stop, my father bought an old Ford Torino with the money he had earned on a horse called Holy Moly. ??
The father in question, Vincent, died that day. Over 20 years later, her son Joe still lives in Melbourne and is now a father himself. Reflecting on a photo of his father outside an Indian ashram taken in the late 1970s, happier and apparently more alive than the distant and angry man he remembers, Joe decides to reunite with his father’s friends in the room. hope to understand the man he once was.
For the first 100 pages of the novel, we skillfully switch between Joe’s day-to-day preoccupations – raising a young child, a falling marriage – and his growing fixation on his father’s past. His father’s friends are mostly old hippies or failed performers who answer Joe’s questions with encouragement or weariness. One question leads to another, a memory to another figure from the past. As an image of his father slowly forms, the local scale of his quest suddenly turns out to be insufficient. To understand better, Joe must return to the country where his father lived a totally different life.
It is at this point that the novel breaks from Joe’s point of view, never to return. For the rest of In the Land of the Moon we jump back in time, from a vividly recreated 70s Pune to narrative tangents far removed from the novel’s suburban openness.
His second section, a lengthy dramatization of Vincent’s time in an ashram, is particularly effective, capturing both the initial blokey nervousness of men away from home and the heartfelt change that overwhelms Vincent and his friends as their savage manhood melts away. into something submerged and transformative. Details throughout – well documented copies of The man with the dice and Ram Dass’ Be here now the backpacker’s lack of purpose – to feel right, and the emotional texture is compelling and ultimately quite moving.
Allinson’s prose is alert, nuanced, and capable of great variety. It’s a formally ambitious novel, but perhaps its boldest move is its rejection of closure – with each new section we learn more, but we feel less sure. The novel’s protagonists move forward hesitantly, get lost, and give up on their own conclusions over time – as one of Vincent’s friends puts it at the end of the novel: “It was all over now. It was just smoke in my head.