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The Passage of Love by Alex Miller

This exquisite novel is an undisguised memoir from one of Australia’s greatest writers. It is a book to savour, but one which I devoured in typical greedy fashion because I was so desperately engrossed in the passage of this tormented relationship that I needed to know how it all ended for them.

That and the fact that I had a delicious Sunday entirely at my disposal and the pleasure of having something masterfully written to read and enjoy. In the end I could not finish it and returned to linger over the last few chapters the following day.

I had not previously read anything of Arthur Miller’s; although it was clear at the outset that the twice-winner of the prestigious Miles Franklin Literary Award (together with a swag of other significant gongs) was no slouch. And that is why the end I so desperately sought to know was unknowable, skilfully hidden – elusive until the end.

This is an autobiographical journey, presented as a novel for reasons best known to the author himself. The fact is not hidden. It clearly stated on the cover notes, along with the fact that both Miller and the book’s narrator, Robert Croft, are stockmen turned writers, which seems a unique and unlikely transition. More fiction than truth, but true none the less.

Fictional memoir (this is not auto-fiction) is a not a new genre. Virginia Wolfe was one of the first to use this format in the 1930s, and it is currently being increasingly used by writers to package their reflections. Perhaps it is easier to return to some places when the wounds have closed and the heart has healed.

Writers frequently bridle at the suggestion their writing is deeply drawn from the personal because this is often seen as a criticism: that they lack the imagination to create a complete work of fiction. Although most will happily acknowledge that this part or that is drawn from people or places known to them.

Yet I remain intrigued at Miller’s reasons for choosing to present this momentous book as a novel, rather than an autobiography. I suppose the chosen genre not only allows for some artistic licence, but also raises the possibility that some of the characters and scenes are imaginary, which draws a subtle veil over their real identity and retains their privacy.

The Passage of Love takes the reader through the intensely personal landscape of a life-long love affair between an emerging writer and a tormented artist. It is at once an exquisite and disturbing, tender and terrifying journey.

I remain intensely moved by it and Miller’s unabashed love for the Australian landscape and the characters who inhabit it.

Reviewer: Peta Stavelli

Allen and Unwin, $36.99