The Magpie Wing

Max Easton

The Magpie Wing
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The Magpie Wing

Max Easton

Helen, Walt and Duncan are looking for ways to entertain themselves in the sprawl of Sydney’s western suburbs. Walt, scrappy and idealistic, wants to prove a point, and turns to petty vandalism. His friend Duncan sticks to his fledgling football career, and sexual encounters in strange houses. Walt’s sister Helen, restless and seeking something larger than herself, is forced by scandal to leave the family home. As they move into adulthood they gravitate to the dingy glamour of the inner-city suburbs, to escape their families' complicated histories, and in search of new identities, artistic, sexual and political.

The Magpie Wing is set on football fields, in punk gigs, and in dilapidated and gentrifying pubs, moving from the nineties to the present, and between the suburbs and the inner city. Max Easton’s debut novel explores how, even in a city divided against itself, disparate communities - underground music scenes, rugby league clubs, communist splinter groups - share unexpected roots.


Max Easton is the creator of the brilliant podcast Barely Human, which explores the underground music scene and the musicians who fascinate him. (The episodes on Randy Newman, Poly Styrene and R.L. Burnside are well worth checking out.) Music is also at the heart of Easton’s debut novel, The Magpie Wing, which focuses on three teenagers living in the western suburbs of Sydney in the late 1990s. Walt and Duncan first meet as kids on a rugby league field, and Duncan soon becomes Walt’s protector on the field and off. As someone who barely acknowledges rugby league as a sport, I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this portion of the book, but Easton’s passion for and knowledge of the subject make it both moving and illuminating to read.

Rounding out the triangle is Walt’s sister Helen. Like most older siblings in literature and life, she leads the way and influences her younger brother. Her musical obsessions, rampant drunkenness and burgeoning sexuality lead her to move out of the family home, starting the siblings’ journey through a series of share houses, squats and sheds in inner-city Sydney. Easton’s characterisation of Helen is deft and deeply explored, brought to life on the page with sympathy. For me, she was the most fully realised and interesting person in the whole novel.

We follow these three characters as they navigate adolescence and their early 20s, moving from the sporting fields of Western Sydney to the clubs, sex, drugs and music scene of their early adulthood. Easton’s deep knowledge of music and all of its life- changing intricacies are woven throughout the book without any hint of pontification or name-dropping. I suspect The Magpie Wing will appeal more to the music fan than the sports fan, and while its roots are tied to Sydney, I think that as Victorians we need to overcome our distaste for the primitive game and allow ourselves the pleasure of reading this extremely interesting first novel.

Pierre Sutcliffe is a bookseller for Readings St Kilda.

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