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Jay Carmichael

It’s the 1950s in conservative Australia, and Christopher, a young gay man, moves to ‘the City' to escape the repressive atmosphere of his tiny hometown. Once there, however, he finds that it is just as censorial and punitive, in its own way.

Then Christopher meets Morgan, and the two fall in love - a love that breathes truth back into Christopher’s stifled life. But the society around them remains rigid and unchanging, and what begins as a refuge for both men inevitably buckles under the intensity of navigating a world that wants them to refuse what they are. Will their devotion be enough to keep them together?

In reviving a time that is still so recent yet so vastly different from now, Jay Carmichael has drawn on archival material, snippets of newspaper articles, and photos to create the claustrophobic environment in which these two men lived and loved. Told with Carmichael’s ear for sparse, poetic beauty, Marlo takes us into the landscape of a relationship defined as much by what is said and shared as by what has to remain unsaid.


Jay Carmichael made a considerable impression with his debut Ironbark (a finalist for the 2016 Victorian Premier’s Unpublished Manuscript Award), so it was with great anticipation that I welcomed reviewing his second novel, Marlo.

It’s 1950s Melbourne, and Christopher has come to the city to escape his tiny hometown, with the assistance of his older sister (who must sacrifice her own dream). He moves in with an old school friend, Kings, who is now a journalist. It will not be lost on the reader that Kings – who relishes writing articles detailing the ‘lewd’ and ‘unnatural’ deeds that go on between men in the public gardens and alleyways of Melbourne late at night – once exposed his own genitals to Christopher in an empty field. Kings is now in a relationship with an older woman he sees as ‘damaged goods’ since her first husband ran off with another man.

Christopher’s internal conflict over his sexuality is palpable, realising the city is anything but a refuge to hide in plain sight; in fact, it is just as claustrophobic and punitive as the town he left behind. When he meets Morgan, his struggle to confine who he really is becomes an impossibility. Together they attempt to navigate the complexity of how to love one another in a society that sees homosexuality as, at best, an illness to be cured, at worst as a vile affliction to be punished and exposed.

In a mere 136 pages, Carmichael deftly constructs what feels like a much larger story. A story that, while fictional, feels anything but fabricated. His skilful use of images and news clippings from this era adds to the sensation that one is reading fictionalised fact. Christopher and Morgan are just two members of a beautifully imagined cast of characters, ones I will be thinking about for some time to come. Highly recommended.

Tye Cattanach is from Readings Kids

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