1. Timm Newlands, ‘The Crossing’
This is evocative work—even though writing with Bridges as inspiration, Newlands has a distinct sense of voice and style that makes for incredibly compelling reading. I congratulate Newlands on their work here, which was a genuine pleasure to read.
The narrative has a wonderful sense of claustrophobia about it, largely located within the space of a single room and based on conversations between Bridges and Sylvie. The itch to get beyond the immediacy of the four walls is never really scratched, and even scenes describing ventures to London and York seem oddly confined; achieving a remarkable mimicry of Bridges’ own flat or passive treatment of setting, as described in the exegesis.
There are some terrifically imagistic moments, such as the tower hunched with ‘its shoulders around its ears’ (p. 22), and a shadow that writhes on the ‘surface of the sluggish waters’ (p. 27). A few awkward phrases—‘he fumbled the unlit cigarette to the floor’ (p. 4)—interrupt the flow of the writing here and there, but the style remains largely fluid (which seems fitting given the moments that evoke a stream-of consciousness not unlike Virginia Woolf).
Movements in time and place take a while to work well—the transitions are not as clear or as well marked as they might be, so there is an odd sense of circularity and repetition. The extended metaphors work effectively (although perhaps coal is over-played), and the final moments with Sylvie are incredibly well crafted, looping back within the (meta-)narrative with control and finesse, and also humour.
Indeed, the dynamic between Sylvie and Bridges is carefully held, with the writing of the novel crossing into their interpersonal relationship and chatter in some very astute and playful ways. While the dialogue is often pacy and clever, it might have been shortened in places, to add a further sense of tension and perhaps give the characters some space to breathe a little.
The treatment of accents is somewhat hit and miss, working well for the landlady in parodic or comedic terms, but utilised inconsistently with Sylvie, whose voice sometimes becomes too much of an echo of those with whom she is speaking. That Sylvie rewrites the final chapter is a lovely testament to her assertion of selfhood and creativity, but also avoids any cliché romantic ending. While I’m not sure a 19-year-old would refer to another—especially her male employer—as ‘old boy’, she has a wonderful sense of energy and vivacity, a verve that is an important counterpoint to Bridges’ seriousness.
The references to the ‘colonial’ are profoundly suggestive, but I do wonder if they might have been extended, even in coded terms, to gesture towards the incredibly violent history of Australia in relation to First Nations peoples—particularly for the Palawa.
Overall, this is engaging and evocative work, and I again extend my congratulations to the candidate for their efforts here.
2. Reader’s Report for Tim Newlands’ The Crossing
The thesis under examination here is a fascinating novella that draws on real historical and archival research about a largely forgotten Tasmanian author, Roy Bridges, focusing specifically on the composition of his novel, A Mirror of Silver (1927).
The intention to generate fiction from this historical research is both intriguing and admirable. There is a wry humour to the story throughout that is particularly enjoyable, and it is a metafictional novel that seeks to dramatise the writing process itself. It is an ambitious task to attempt representing this dramatically.
I enjoyed the novella’s subtle use of historical details, such as the backdrop of the General Strike (which also is represented at the end of Wyndham Lewis’s Apes of God (1930)) and the discussion of DH Lawrence in Australia and his novel Kangaroo.
I also enjoyed the way that the novella seeks to thematise the relationship between England and Tasmania, and the complex forms of cultural ‘haunting’ that exist between the former and the latter.
There is a highly intellectual and complex background to this novella, but the resulting work is also stylistically more straightforward. There are also some unexpected and humorous exchanges with odd characters, including a one-eyed ghost and a librarian obsessed with book vandalism.
While there are many excellent qualities to this work, I would offer the below suggestions.
I think the opening, in particular, could be strengthened: ‘woke with a start’ (p. 1) is a cliched expression and not very evocative as the first words to encounter in a piece of fiction. This may seem like a minor thing, but the opening sentence is arguably the most important one in the story, and it should draw the reader in with strong prose.
There are a lot of stock descriptions in the opening paragraphs (‘Rain spattered the window’, clouds are ‘heavy and grey’, ‘damp with perspiration’ etc). Perhaps these stock phrases are in part a tribute to Bridges, but—if so—I am not sure that this intention currently works.
Other passages—such as the description of the streamers in the dream—demonstrate more rhetorical mastery, and I would attempt to scrutinise and revise these descriptions throughout to be more evocative. This is also true of the novella’s closing sentence about home—which I think could use further attention.
There are some nice turns of phrase elsewhere, e.g. ‘Story-writing, however, is a kind of bloodletting; I open an artery and the words pour out’ (p.15), though I do think the clause after the semicolon could be deleted and the sense would remain!
I understand the desire to represent accents and why that might even matter here, but I would strongly suggest avoiding unusually spellings and apostrophes to evoke this. Firstly, this tradition has a long and not very distinguished history (used primarily to depict lower-class people in the UK), but also it’s very difficult to maintain consistency and worse still these lexical changes are non-transferable: an Australian rendering of a UK accent won’t necessarily scan for English-speaking readers from other countries. I’d suggest the use of diction and word order to represent lexical difference instead of changing spellings. Again, this may be a tribute to Bridges own writing—but I don’t know if that will scan for readers.
In general, there is a lot of dialogue in this story. Dialogue is hard to write and much of it is very good, but I do wonder if sometimes a bit more summary narration or perspectival exposition would move things along faster and offer the reader stronger sensory impressions of the world of the story.
While I like the idea of Sylvie and Roy co-writing the novel, I do think the preponderance of dialogue becomes very heavy as the novella progresses, and it feels like these dialogues alternate with digressive scenes that are more traditionally novelistic but less relevant to the story. I wonder if these styles could be merged throughout? Right now, the different sections are finally drawn but lose some momentum and dynamism from this switching between dialogue and scenic method.
I like that this story tries to explain the creative process behind A Mirror of Silver, but I also think it’s important that this not become too explicit. I think this line is crossed in this sentence: ‘To perfection. Apart from Alice, the only literary looking glass I can think of is Oscar Wilde’s, and it only acts like a mirror’ (p. 17) This is very explicit, but it also strikes me as unlikely and probably false. Given all the discussion of Shakespeare, surely Caliban seeing himself in a glass is more famous? What about Perseus and Medusa?
Similarly, while I like the connections between the hauntings in the mirror and the haunting of Tasmania by England, I think this connection (Tasmania is ‘haunted by faces and fancies’ just as ‘Barbara’s folk will be haunted by visions in the silver mirror’ on p. 18) is far too explicit.
I really enjoyed reading this and learning more about Bridges—though I also think there are some significant structural and linguistic issues that need addressing. Thanks for the opportunity to encounter this very interesting piece of writing.