May 2008

Arts & Letters

‘The Story of Forgetting’ by Stefan Merrill Block

By Zora Simic

Abel is a hunchbacked recluse pushing 70. Basic tasks and a bottomless mourning for his lost family mark his days. A real-estate boom makes him a rich man, but the new neighbours want him out. He switches his horse for a car, but such minor concessions to contemporary living are not convincing anybody: he's stuck in the past.

Seth, a 15-year-old science nerd, appears to have more of a future, yet his mother's diagnosis with early onset Alzheimer's casts a shadow over it. He sets out to trace his mother's genetic history, and we know that his story will intersect with Abel's.

As this narrative fusion is pretty much assured from the opening pages of The Story of Forgetting, Stefan Merrill Block's debut novel, the pleasures contained within the book stem from seeing how the stories gradually unfold, rather than from flashy plot twists (though there are several of these). Block's task is ambitious. By examining an ostensibly modern disease, he wants us to consider an ancient condition: the need human beings have to tell stories. To understand his mother's illness, Seth first turns to Science for direction. Ultimately, however, Imagination (represented here by the alternative world of Isidora) is needed to fill the hole left by forgetting.

This cleverly wrought novel has spectacularly launched the literary career of Block, who is only 25, but its success is not unqualified. In places, the book is over-written, too self-conscious and rather dependent on cheap tricks. For every elegant sentence, there is another in which Seth describes, for instance, the "halves of me brewing in my dad's seminiferous tubules and my mum's ovarian follicles". In an effort to make Seth and Abel flesh-and-blood characters, Block also relies too much on their exaggerated physicality: the respective curses of teenage acne and a hunched back. At times, humour and pathos do not so much mingle as strain awkwardly to coexist.

Yet, overall, The Story of Forgetting comes together impressively. The sins of the first-time novelist are regularly counterbalanced by a thoughtful sincerity which gives weight to Block's central assertion that stories provide "something more desperate and more necessary" than other forms of knowledge.

Cover: May 2008

May 2008

From the front page

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews

Locking back down

Victoria’s woes are a warning for the whole country

Illustration by Jeff Fisher

Weal of fortune

Rebuilding the economy means government investment, but not all public spending is equal

Image of Labor’s Kristy McBain and Anthony Albanese

A win’s a win

The Eden-Monaro result shows that Morrison’s popularity has not substantially changed voting patterns – and Labor has still not cut through

The man inside and the inside man

Crime, punishment and indemnities in western Sydney’s gang wars


In This Issue

Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz

Sir Henry Parkes & Henry Lawson

Illustration by Jeff Fisher.

Lies, damned lies

‘Miracles of Life’ by JG Ballard

Illustration by Jeff Fisher.

Organic matter


More in Arts & Letters

Still from ‘Contempt’

The death of cool: Michel Piccoli, 1925–2020

Re-watching the films of the most successful screen actor of the 20th century

Image of Ziggy Ramo

The heat of a moment: Ziggy Ramo’s ‘Black Thoughts’

A debut hip-hop album that calls for a reckoning with Indigenous sovereignty and invites the listener to respond

Photograph of Malcolm Turnbull

Surrounded by pygmies: Malcolm Turnbull’s ‘A Bigger Picture’

The former PM’s memoir fails to reckon with his fatal belief that all Australians shared his vision

Still from ‘The Assistant’

Her too: ‘The Assistant’

Melbourne-born, New York–based filmmaker Kitty Green’s powerfully underplayed portrait of Hollywood’s abusive culture


More in Noted

‘Minor Detail’ by Adania Shibli

‘Minor Detail’ by Adania Shibli (trans. Elisabeth Jaquette)

The Palestinian author’s haunting novel about an atrocity committed by Israeli soldiers in 1949

‘The Rain Heron’ by Robbie Arnott

An unsettling near-future tale of soldiers hunting a mythic bird by “the Tasmanian Wordsworth”

Cover of ‘The Trials of Portnoy’

‘The Trials of Portnoy’ by Patrick Mullins

The finely detailed story of the legal fight in Australia against the censorship of Philip Roth’s ‘Portnoy’s Complaint’

Cover of ‘The End of October’

‘The End of October’ by Lawrence Wright

A ‘New Yorker’ journalist’s eerily prescient novel about public-health officials fighting a runaway pandemic


Read on

Image of Labor’s Kristy McBain and Anthony Albanese

A win’s a win

The Eden-Monaro result shows that Morrison’s popularity has not substantially changed voting patterns – and Labor has still not cut through

Image of Patrick Allington's ‘Rise & Shine’

Shelf pity: ‘Rise & Shine’

Patrick Allington’s fable of a world in which perpetual war is staged to fuel compassion is too straightforward for its ambitions

Image of then treasurer Scott Morrison handing Barnaby Joyce a lump of coal during Question Time, February 9, 2017.

Coal cursed

The fossil-fuel lobby could not have created the climate wars so easily without the preceding culture wars

Image of library shelves

Learning difficulties

The Coalition’s political agenda is a gross infringement on academic freedom


×
×