book review

Review: Loner

7 October 2020

Georgina Young: Loner
Text Publishing, 2020.
ISBN, 9781922330130, pp. 256, $24.99

 

Text Publishing choosing Georgina Young’s Loner as its internal Text Prize winner all the way back in May of last year feels vaguely . Not that Loner deals with disease or isolation (at least not in the way that we have become familiar with them), no it is simply that reading Loner at this specific time feels somewhat softening on the heart and of the nerves. It is, and I say this aware that it has wholly become trite by now, a book for now.

Loner follows Lona, a Melbourne art school dropout whose social circle is in a constant state of flux between containing anywhere from one to three people. It’s the most recent entry in the emerging category of Young Adult fiction that is brutally self-aware of the growing number of (see also: The Truth about Keeping Secrets by Savannah Brown, Turtles All the Way Down by John Green). Unlike its predecessors in this emerging classification Loner doesn’t veer, quite so drastically, from the profound to the mundane. It instead maintains a neat tonal consistency, approachable for young people, and comfortably readable for the older folk with enough implicit and explicit thematic depth to not become boring.

If this were any other time and you asked me whether you should read Loner I’d probably nod rather slowly, mull the question a little, and then say yes. On the simplest level it is entirely inoffensive, the prose is clean and readable, and the plot is serviceable, and while this sounds like it’s damning with faint praise, it’s not. The prose and plot never seem to try to be more than what they are, instead they are simply there to allow other aspects of the novel shine through. This is almost brutally necessary in the novel.

Primarily it is the construction of a convincing voice of a young modern character that stands out. It seems that whenever people under thirty have been written in literature over the last decade or so they are written by one of two people. There is the older writer, who understands how to write strong, realistic dialogue, but doesn’t fully understand the cultural touchstones of the younger generations that infuse their language, and as such struggles to make convincing young characters. Then there is the young writer, who is flush with understanding of memes and the particulars of irreverence, but lacks experience in writing dialogue, and as such struggles to make convincing humans on the page. Young falls into neither of these two groups. She articulates Lona’s youth without ever feeling ham-fisted or losing any semblance of her humanity. This is epitomised in lines like:

There are many things Lona wants:

  1. the new Jay Kristoff book
  2. Mum’s spaghetti Bolognese without having to ask for it
  3. a slow, exploratory fuck”.

But all the critique up to now is on the basis of reading Loner at any other time. Reading Loner now, the other of the text’s forefront elements takes centre stage and elevates the whole experience. That is, the text’s construction of both the city of Melbourne and of existing in that city. Because, at its core, Loner is reflective of wandering around Melbourne, somewhat downtrodden, and feeling the weight of tepid confusion, not knowing what you want to do with your life. I don’t think this would really be a selling point in any other time, but right now it is peak escapist literature. Lona doesn’t have any problems other than just wandering about existing, her fears are self-centred and many of which come about from real, in person, face-to-face conversations and events, and living in that normalcy was a refreshing escape. On top of that the image Young paints of Melbourne is simple and easily recognisable. It is brand plastered and train filled, and is made even more compelling by Young’s situating of events around landmarks just recognisable enough to be engaging and compelling, but not so glaring that it seems naff (think less ‘we kissed under the Melbourne Observation Wheel’ and more ‘we went to a house party just off Sydney Road’). This is so successful, that despite having only lived in Melbourne for a few months before lockdown, that I found myself easily able to conjure the images of the city that Young constructs.

Like I said Lona is not an infinitely compelling character, and on an instinctual level this feels like it should be damning for a novel so focussed on its main character, but its not. Young’s construction of Lona is focussed not on making you see her as some sympathetic figure, but as seeing her as fallible and human, and is successful in doing so. If left only to this the novel would collapse under its own weight. However, the strong construction of Melbourne, the clean prose, and the serviceable plot, mean that the novel becomes an enjoyable romp through a well realised environment that relishes in the complexities of interpersonal relationships, and at the moment what more could you want from a novel.

 


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