by Nicola Themistes
Fleshmarket Press 2012
Spectacle City takes us on a lavish journey into the dark heart of decadent modern Melbourne. The writing is rich and eloquent, narrated in a voice inpsired by the literary giants of old (think Milton, Nieztche and Patti Smith). This is a wild and unfettered novel of the kind that is so lacking in contemporary Australia.
The story follows the misadventures of a methamphetamine-addled young introvert, Alexander Smokescreen, who wanders sleeplessly throughout the city over the terrifying Melbourne Cup weekend. He lives with two other reprobates, Huw Drop and Smithton Smith. Smithton has a secret amphetamine lab hidden in the attic, and produces a lot of black methamphetamine which may or may not have magical powers. Alexander spends the entire novel getting high, and smokes what appears to be superhuman quantities of the black ice. His love interest is a girl known only as T, who seems to represent some kind of redemption. Throughout the book we also meet a variety of eccentric characters, for example, the young Phoebe, Alexander's niece, and Farina, a speed freak who turns into a harpie. Alexander's adventures include crapping his pants while staring at a mural and installing advertisments in the Crown Casino.
There are a lot of digressions here, and the story has a tendency to fly off onto rather long tangents. The major and recurring themes are gambling, horse-racing, and the lucky country (Australia Felix). There's a lot of extemporising and stream of consciousness writing. Some of it feels authentically drug-induced. The real strength and distinction of the book is of course the language. It's raw and poetic, a homage to self destruction and the battle within. At times I was reminded of Thomas De Quincey (just a little bit).
Some of the most imaginative passages are the descriptions of Melbourne itself. Places are usually given alternative and appropriate names - ie Melbourne becomes "Specatcle City" and Sydney becomes "Sinny", etc. There's a lot to like here. If I had to make a criticism I would probably pick on the ending, which was perhaps a bit abrupt and unlikely.
Spectacle city is a smoking hot first novel from a new Melbourne author. Romantic, gothic and individual, it's a welcome burst of fresh energy into the local literary scene. Give it a read!