My Beautiful Enemy

Cory Taylor

My Beautiful Enemy
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My Beautiful Enemy

Cory Taylor

I was blinded by his beauty. In the one or two photographs I’ve kept of him I can still see it. He stares out of them almost miserably, as if his loveliness is an affliction. Not that I saw it that way, at least not in the beginning. In the beginning I thought it was a kind of miracle.

Arthur Wheeler is haunted by his infatuation with a Japanese youth he encountered in the enemy alien camp where he worked as a guard during WW2. Abandoning his wife and baby son, Arthur sets out on a doomed mission to rescue his lover from forced deportation back to Japan, a country in ruins.

Thus begins the secret history of a soldier at war with his own sexuality and dangerously at odds with the racism that underpins the crumbling British Empire.

Four decades later Arthur is still obsessed with the traumatic events of his youth. He proposes a last reunion with his lost lover, in the hope of laying his ghosts to rest, but this mission too seems doomed to failure.

Like Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence and Snow Falling On Cedars, My Beautiful Enemy explores questions of desire and redemption against the background of a savage racial war. In this context, Arthur’s private battles against his own nature, and against the conventions of his time, can only end in heartache.

Review

Earlier this year I read Me and Mr Booker, regional winner of the 2012 Commonwealth Book Prize, and immediately fell in love with Cory Taylor’s writing. Sixteen-year-old Martha’s voice is fresh, wry and completely addictive as she describes her life in a small town – her parents’ strange and estranged marriage, and her affair with a married man – exploring the complexities that haunt us in our own relationships. Now, with My Beautiful Enemy, Taylor gives us a whole new set of complexities to contend with.

The story is set in a Japanese internment camp in regional Victoria during World War II. Arthur Wheeler is a young soldier who develops an infatuation with a Japanese youth, leading to personally devastating consequences. Throughout the novel Arthur recalls his brief time together with Stanley in minute detail. Every moment they share – a gesture, a conversation, a dream – is treasured with an intensity we may recognise in our own pored-over memories, brought out again and again.

Even as Stanley remains elusive to us, Arthur is revealed fully in his confession of how their meeting shook his understanding of himself. There’s a sadness underlining the story, quiet and yet surging, which is reminiscent of a Kazuo Ishiguro novel.

While I didn’t connect as strongly with Arthur as I did with Martha, it was a pleasure to read something from a local author that steps away from the kinds of stories that I’ve come to associate with a lot of recent Australian literature. Taylor is challenging herself as a writer and what I find most exciting about her writing is still here. I’ve always loved a good romance and that is exactly what we get with My Beautiful Enemy, a love story that is tender and original.


Bronte Coates is the Online & Readings Monthly Assistant. She is a co-founder of literary project, Stilts.

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