By the time I got it together to choose a book from Overland’s list to review, I was saying: Send me over whatever you’ve got. Novels, I’ll read novels. When two arrived and I read the first two pages of each, I reluctantly chose the tome, a doorstopper as Phillip Adams would say, a 680-page weapon – if you can lift it and get enough swing to wallop someone over the head with it. But there you have it, by the time I’d hit page 100, my thumb fanning across the rest of them, I found myself lamenting there were so few. And right to the end, Equator was one of the truly unexpected joys of reading for me this year.
What’s even more perplexing is that Equator is classified as magical realism, a genre I’ve never greatly admired. The idea of an omnipresent narrator being a treasure box is – despite the set-up for this needing tightening (the only time in the text, in my opinion) – a lovely one. One which, as a device, works to drag a rambling story together beautifully. It also allows Wayne Ashton to have a lot of fun with language. And that fun is contagious. It’s great to hear words he’s not only employed but constructed used in such a playful manner.
Equator is not just a work of frivolity however. The big themes – the global economic meltdown, the state of the oceans, the role art plays in our world – are woven into the story, as is one of the most potent descriptions of a mother’s torment over a mentally ill son I’ve read to date. What is most powerful though, in this wide-stretching tale, is the ability to relay pearls of wisdom to the reader without a hint of twee or lecturing:
What we boxes understand, what binary bagpipes cannot understand, coz I dunno why, coz I guess they’re addicted to ceremonies, is Kieran was giving the colonel that outright simple thing, the simplest of all things, and it don’t require a national holiday in Tangiers for it to happen. He was giving the colonel the honour of memory. But hold it: he had little or fuck-all control of it. Just comes and goes and vacant thoughts and idle hummings of internal silence, wafted pieces of olden crumbs getting a ride on a wind nobody knows anything about, and warm breeze under the shade of The Tree of Wishes suddenly comes up, and then goes. Scant intention and scant taste and scant scent and no control.
By the time I’d finished this book I felt that I’d been across the globe and, even more impressively, that Australia was part of the world rather than, as I sometimes feel still, a forgotten younger brother who’s got some annoyingly positive attributes going for them.