A Sand Archive

Gregory Day

A Sand Archive
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A Sand Archive

Gregory Day

Shortlisted for the 2019 Miles Franklin Literary Award

Long before I ever met him I knew his name from the leaky dessicated type of a grey-brown slim volume, cheaply printed but essential to my research…

Seeking stories of Australia’s Great Ocean Road, a young writer stumbles across a small, technical manual from a minor player in the road’s history: Dune Stabilisation and Other Engineering Difficulties by FB Herschell.

It is a volume unremarkable in every way, save for the surprising portrait of its author that can be read between its lines: a vision of a man who writes with uncanny poetry about sand.

And as he continues to mine the archive of FB Herschell - engineer, historian, philosopher - it is not the subject, but the man who begins to fascinate. A man whose private revolution among the streets of Paris and dunes of France begins to change the way he sees Australia’s most famous coastal road…


Award-winning author Gregory Day’s latest novel opens in Geelong with our narrator, a nameless writer, coming across a ‘slim grey-brown volume, cheaply printed but essential to [his] research: The Great Ocean Road: Dune Stabilisation and Other Engineering Difficulties by F.B. Herschell. The narrator’s fascination with F.B., a minor player in the construction and upkeep of the Great Ocean Road, deepens as he meets him and discovers poetry and heartbreak by reading in between the lines of his writing.

A Sand Archive spans decades and continents. It transports the reader from present-day Geelong to Paris in the tumultuous 1960s, where F.B. travels as a young student in order to find a solution to the shifting and destabilising influence of sand upon the Great Ocean Road. Amongst the riots and revolutionary fervour gripping Paris, F.B. discovers love, poetry, politics and a new way of looking at his own world back in Australia.

After a slow start (civil engineering jargon doesn’t really do it for me), I was quickly sucked into the poetry of Day’s writing and I raced through the book to find out more about the complex polymath F.B.

My one critique would have to be of Day’s use of the framing narrative of the Geelong writer. For the most part the young writer is inexplicably omniscient as he shares detailed information not only about F.B.’s inner feelings and monologue but also those of the people F.B. meets in Paris. At other moments he acknowledges, much more realistically, gaps in his knowledge concerning F.B.’s history.

This, however, is more of a complaint concerning form than content. Day has written a ripper of a novel here. This is the first book I’ve read by Day, but it certainly won’t be the last.

Tristen Kiri Brudy works as a bookseller at Readings Carlton.

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