My Heart Is a Little Wild Thing
“The day after I tried to kill my mother, I tossed some clothes, a pair of hiking boots, a baseball cap and a few toiletries into my backpack, and left at dawn.” So begins Nigel Featherstone’s My Heart Is a Little Wild Thing. It is swiftly apparent, however, that the protagonist, Patrick, is not really a Camus-esque matricidal sociopath but rather a repressed, middle-aged gay man who is increasingly coming to resent his elderly mother, for whom he has primary caring responsibilities.
He decides to return to Jimenbuen, the Monaro township where he and his family used to holiday when he was a child. There is something in this land that pulls him back to a time when he had more freedom, and perhaps more available versions of himself to choose from. Now he is well into middle age, childless and closeted, occasionally visiting a gay nude beach in Sydney but abstaining from the touch he really hungers for.
Reading the first half of this Australian Gothic, I found myself muttering two lines to myself on rotation. The first was the opening sentence of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca: “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” The second was the iconic sing-song line from cult Aussie classic The Castle: “We’re going to Bonnie Doon!” These lines constitute a strange juxtaposition, but together they speak to the atmosphere that Featherstone creates. This novel’s voice is laconic, grim, masculine, withheld, but through the darkness, it also holds a sweetly earnest, genuine hope – Patrick’s desires shine through. I imagine the Kerrigans hailing the serenity of Manderley.
At Jimenbuen, Patrick meets Lewis, a musician. Together they explore themselves, each other and the land. As the novel rolls on their fates are divided and then intertwined again. Slowly, Patrick allows himself to act on his desires. Some of the sex scenes read a little smuttily, but generally they work: this is an older man coming to lovemaking with an adolescent lack of experience and decades of pent-up fervour.
This is a book that grows on you, subtly and unhurriedly, as a man attempts to rebuild trust in an inhospitable world.
Ultimo Press, 288pp, $32.99
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 28, 2022 as "My Heart is a Little Wild Thing, Nigel Featherstone ".
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