Jillwilson's Reviews > The Passage of Love

The Passage of Love by Alex Miller
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I went to hear the psychotherapist Irvin Yalom speak a few days ago. He spoke along these lines, amongst other things: “I feel that as I've gotten into my later decades — my 70s and 80s — I'm feeling a lot of comfort and a lot of lack of stress at this point. I think it has a lot to do with not living a life that's full of regrets. I work with that concept a whole lot with my patients; they talk about all the regrets they have about what's happened in the past, and I like to focus in on What's your life right now? If we were to meet a year or two from now, what new regrets would you have built up? How could you go about constructing a regret-free life for yourself?” (https://www.salon.com/2015/03/21/not_...)

I mention Yalom because this is very much a novel about the choices that you make in life and the things which cause you to have regrets. This “novel” tracks thirteen years of the novelist Alex Miller’s life through the fictional main character Robert Crofts. Crofts is a young Englishman who has come to Australia and after working as stockman in FNQ, he comes to Melbourne and almost immediately works on becoming a writer. He also marries a young woman Lena (apparently modelled on his wife, artist Anne Neil). His choice – to write an autobiography camouflaged as fiction – is interesting – I came to really like it. I am sure that he chose this mode of telling his story because the book is so personal, so intimate and up close.

I liked this reflection on the genre of this book from ABR: “Every author has some version of origin story: a narrative describing what it was that first compelled him or her to write, or at least what attracted them to the role. You can hear the tale harden into myth as an emerging author shapes themselves to those obligatory rubrics of self-disclosure required by writers’ festivals. Sometimes the transition from would-be novelist or short story writer is so smooth as to be seamless, an osmotic passage from student of literature to practitioner. These are more likely to be authors already inculcated with the requisite cultural confidence and tutored intelligence of their caste. The children of the creative classes are those who are born to write, as others are born to rule.
But there is another, perhaps more interesting kind of author – the sort who emerges from nowhere. The progenitor figure in the modern Anglosphere tradition is D.H. Lawrence, that wild, weird, proletarian genius (in the local context, Miles Franklin offers a different yet no less compelling case, based on gender and nation rather than class). Unlike those who have been raised up in the relatively sophisticated cultural infrastructure of English literature departments or creative writing degrees, whose tendency is to address themes or subjects removed from direct experience, self-made writers are likely to take their own emergence as a subject. They have willingly chosen their way, not inherited the possibility of the writing life. The story they have to tell, at least in part, is the story of their becoming.” (https://www.australianbookreview.com....)

This is a novel which explores the relationships he forms over that period. It also looks at what it is to try to be an artist or writer – the struggles in that process. It’s a long book and reading it I felt a little of the meandering and blockages that are inherent in both these topics (relationships and art). In that sense the reader experiences something of the frustration of Croft himself. Miller said that it took him four years of writing the book working six days a week to do the structure.

What I loved most was how he described the time that the couple spend on a farm at Araluen in southern NSW. Miller can really evoke a landscape well, along with the emotions of the time – I felt like I was there. I think it’s quite a brave and exposing book; a means of laying bare some of the regrets in his life and potentially coming to terms with them. But it works as more than a form of personal therapy.

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Reading Progress

Started Reading
February, 2018 – Finished Reading
March 25, 2018 – Shelved

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