Currently Reading Bright Air by Barry Maitland
Barry Maitland’s new novel, Bright Air (pub. Allen & Unwin) has been released today, an event certainly worth noting. It’s even more noteworthy when you learn that this is a stand-alone novel, not part of the immensely popular Brock and Kolla series. On top of that, the story is set in Sydney as opposed to the series books which are set in England.
I am almost exactly halfway through reading Bright Air at the moment and would classify it as one of those mystery novels that is very careful in the build up. Maitland has put a lot of effort into setting the scene for us. It feels as though the reader is being prepared for a shocking revelation – just my own impression, mind you.
Here’s a brief overview to give you an idea of what the plot’s about. The opening finds us at the home of Josh Ambler. Josh has recently returned from London where he worked for a few years as a merchant banker. He is visited by a friend from his past. Anna was one of a group of friends he knew from his university days, all with a passion for rock-climbing. Josh took up the sport as a way of meeting Anna’s friend, Lucy or Luce as she was known to all. They wound up dating and became very close until Josh broke it off and moved to London.
While Josh was in London Luce died in a climbing accident on Lord Howe Island while doing a field study for her university degree. With her at the time were some of the members of their circle of friends: Owen, Curtis, Damien and Marcus. The coroner’s report found that her death was an accident but her body was never recovered.
The reason that Anna has come to see Josh is because two more members of the party, Owen and Curtis, have also died, also in a climbing accident. Before he died Owen revealed to Anna that there was more to Luce’s death than what the coroner concluded. What he actually said to Anna was, “We killed her.”
Now Anna has come to enlist Josh in finding out what really happened on Lord Howe Island.
The story switches from the present day and Josh and Anna’s progress to the early days of their relationship and their rock-climbing experiences together. The personalities of all of the members of the group are gradually revealed, as are the details of what happened between Josh and Luce.
Barry Maitland writes with a strong, fulfilling style that commands your attention. The rock-climbing sequences provide an added interest but it’s the depth of the character portraits where the real strength to the story lies. There are also some moving instances of self-awareness that creeps into Josh’s narrative as he looks back on his time with Luce.
When I thought about it, I was amazed to realise how totally insulated my life had been from this world until I’d started climbing with Luce. Nature to me had been no more than a marginal risk of hurricanes or floods that could be managed with a range of financial instruments. I had only ever seen true wilderness through the filter of a TV screen or an aeroplane window. And now I was about as fully exposed to it as one could be, suspended in a gossamer net high up a mountain face in bright air. Half the book to go and I am fully engaged, as I find I often am while reading a Barry Maitland novel. Sure, I’ve made some guesses about which way I think the story’s going to go – good stories compel you to do just that, I reckon. But I’ll keep those guesses to myself.
I'm looking forward to reading this Damien. My library is getting it in.
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