Summer Reading Highlight
When Alex Miller first migrated to Australia from war-ravaged London in the early 1950s, he wanted to fulfil a childhood dream to live in rural Queensland and become a stockman. Writing novels was not on Miller’s roadmap. Indeed, to this 16-year-old travelling on his own, the notion of furthering his education and literacy skills must have seemed as remote as the continent he now considered home. But Miller’s love of the bush, and the intensity of its colours and light, smells and sounds, its indigenous landowners and the (mostly) European settler communities, fired his imagination. He felt a writer’s calling. And so, after a few years up north, young Alex made his way to Melbourne and onto a path of studying, books, university, intellectual stimulation – and love.
Alex Miller is now 81. He lives in Castlemaine with his wife Stephanie and still writes every day. He is a twice-winner of Australia’s most prestigious literary prize, the Miles Franklin Award, and last Spring his 12th book, The Passage of Love, arrived in our store. There was great excitement among his fans, of which I am one. But I wanted to wait until the Christmas rush and long hours in the shop were behind me (i.e. no distractions), which is why Alex’s book was the first one into the holiday suitcase.
Alex Miller has visited our shop for author talks, and he and I have chatted many times over several years. While reading The Passage of Love it’s not difficult to hear his voice, with its faint whisper of a British accent. Sometimes with his other books, this has proved a distraction. But not with The Passage of Love. And as the young writer Robert Crofts moves through the important relationships of his early life, searches for knowledge, tackles marriage, tries to find peace as a city dweller while yearning for his beloved bush, and all the while grappling with his writing, we are reminded that even for truly great writers like Miller, the creative process is never straightforward. And we realise, this IS Alex Miller’s own story. To hear his voice in my mind was a privilege and a comfort.
In a recent interview with The Australian, Alex Miller confirmed The Passage of Love is an autobiographical novel. “The eagle eye can look down — at himself — and see this helpless and at risk young man,’’ he explained to the newspaper’s literary editor Stephen Romei. “But me at the time, at 22? I didn’t feel vulnerable. I felt omnipresent, immortal … the whole bloody clutter of misunderstandings.” The Passage of Love examines some of that “clutter of misunderstandings” and draws readers in at a quiet and gentle pace. To say it was, for me, the perfect novel to read while on holiday, with no plans, and only the distraction of a beach at the end of the street, is an understatement. Can we please request a Robert/Alex Part Two?