Alex Miller is twice winner of Australia's premier literary prize, The Miles Franklin Literary Award, first in 1993 for The Ancestor Game and again in 2003 for Journey to the Stone Country. He is also an overall winner of the Commonwealth Writers' Prize, in 1993 for The Ancestor Game. His fifth novel, Conditions of Faith, won the Christina Stead Prize for Fiction in the 2001 New South Wales Premier's Awards. In 2011 he won this award a second time with his most recent novel Lovesong. Lovesong also won the People's Choice Award in the NSW Premier's Awards, the Age Book of the Year Award and the Age Fiction Prize for 2011. In 2007 Landscape of Farewell was published to wide critical acclaim and in 2008 won the Chinese Annual Foreign Novels 21st Century Award for Best Novel and the Manning Clark Medal for an outstanding contribution to Australian cultural life. It was also short-listed for the Miles Franklin Award, the Christina Stead Prize for Fiction, the ALS Gold Medal and the Commonwealth Writers' Prize. Alex is published internationally and widely in translation. Autumn Laing is his tenth novel.
Readers familiar with Journey to the Stone Country will feel a comforting sense of deja vu right from the start of Alex Miller's superb new novella. In the first paragraph of both titles the main character stands contemplating their reflection in a hallstand mirror. Both are historians, and both are alone. But while Annabelle Beck had come home to find her husband had walked out, Professor Max Otto, the main character in Landscape of Farewell, is about to leave a home made empty by his wife's death. Max, an elderly German academic, has come to the end of a disappointing career, and is now resigned to delivering a second-rate valedictory paper about massacres in history, which he knows is ‘concocted from yesterday's leftovers.' Duty done, he will then return home and take his own life. But the end of his speech is interrupted by Vita McLelland, a visiting Australian academic who angrily accuses him of ignoring the massacres of her own Aboriginal people. Max is fascinated by the no-nonsense Vita, who bullies him into visiting Australia for an international conference. After the conference, she takes him to stay with her uncle Dougald Gnapun, an Aboriginal elder who lives in a remote township in the central highlands of Queensland. At first Max is dismayed by the primitive conditions and the preoccupied silence of Dougald as he struggles with the troubles of his people. But Max finds comfort in the simple daily household chores, and an unspoken bond slowly grows between the two widowed men- almost like an old married couple. Both share a common inability to come to terms with the past. Max cannot forget his traumatic wartime childhood in Germany and the death of his beloved wife, and Dougald is troubled by conflicting memoires of a violent but loving father, and the burden of a terrible secret passed on by his grandfather. Like Annabelle and Bo in Journey to the Stone Country, the two men undertake not just an exhausting physical trip, but a spiritual journey, when the time comes for Dougald to revisit his grandfather's resting place in the mountains. This book is a truly remarkable achievement. In only 220 pages of unhurried, exquisitely paced storytelling Miller has enriched universal themes such as love, ageing, memory and friendship, with particularly Australian themes such as colonial violence, inter-racial relationships, Indigenous history, and reconciliation. The result is a book that will resonate with readers all over the world. Graeme Moore is a freelance writer and online bookseller