March 2019

Noted

‘Exploded View’ by Carrie Tiffany

By Adam Rivett
This new novel is most striking in how it diverges from its predecessors

The nameless teen narrator of Exploded View (Text Publishing; $29.99) may have never read a line of Larkin, but she shares with the poet a cruel knowledge of life: first boredom, then fear. Killing time in a rural Australian town during an unspecified time in the 1970s – the town, like her, gets by without a name – she bounces between school and her father’s garage, in her free time studying the three-dimensional technical drawings from where the novel takes its title. At night she steals cars from the garage, driving aimlessly. There’s not much to do but wait and worry.

Tiffany’s new novel shares much with both its predecessor, 2012’s Stella Prize–winning Mateship with Birds, and her 2005 debut, Everyman’s Rules for Scientific Living. Here, too, the focus is wholly rural – a landscape dotted with isolated figures and heavy with lonely hours. And as the 1950s setting of Birds marked a 20-year leap forward from Everyman’s ’30s setting, the 1970s presented in Exploded View marks a similar temporal jump. Yet it is where Tiffany diverges from her earlier work that the most striking comparison can be made.

Exploded View portrays a world of menace and anomie, of true lovelessness. Details and motivation are lacking or wholly denied. Names are never provided, figures existing in crude, archetypal form: Mother, Brother and, most crucially of all, “Father Man”. Relationships between parents and children are tense with carefully elided violence. The landscape is evocative, but denuded. The sexuality so forthrightly dramatised in Birds – hesitant at first, then, finally, joyous – is here predatory and sour. Violence arrives randomly, unexpectedly. It’s fitting that the novel’s central stretch is dedicated to that grand Australian tradition that so deftly welds tedium to terror: the holiday car trip.

Tiffany has always welcomed digression in her work – her earlier novels are filled with diary entries, poems, photos, lists – but here her focus has narrowed to great effect. This is Tiffany’s triumph, given the potential bleakness of the material and the possibility for the novel’s study of alienation to lapse into its own kind of boredom. Her prose has the alert, truncated poetry of a preternaturally wise child – lyrical without being florid, clear-sighted but unhappy with that early knowledge.

Like many contemporary novels, this is one built from fragments. Yet unlike other works in this mode, which often lose momentum and focus from piece to piece and page to page, the effect here is nervously cumulative, moving inexorably towards its dark conclusion. Its title might suggest a splintering of focus, but the line drawn in Exploded View is unwavering, tragic, and heads straight down.

Adam Rivett

Adam Rivett is a Melbourne-based writer. He has written for The Lifted Brow, The Age, The Australian, Island, Fireflies and Seizure.

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