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Jay Carmichael made a considerable impression with his debut Ironbark (a finalist for the 2016 Victorian Premier’s Unpublished Manuscript Award), so it was with great anticipation that I welcomed reviewing his second novel, Marlo.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