Review: Nicolas Rothwell’s “The Red Highway”

by writereaderly

This book is a bit of a mixed bag, but I cannot fault Rothwell’s brilliant nature writing, nor the questing impulse which he has crystallised herein. Rothwell, recently returned from war reporting, takes an “inadvertent” journey through the north – largely the Red Centre and the Kimberley – as he explores his own sense of place and the concept of emplacement in Australia. The title clearly locates it as a contemporary Aussie response to Least Heat-Moon’s luminous Blue Highways (do read that, if you get a chance). Rothwell reads explorers’ narratives, travels to churches and museums and lost Western outposts, converses with artists and anthropologists and one blackfella and novelists and two women (only) &tc. &tc., and considers spiritual, emotional, biological, philosophical bonds to landscape. Rothwell’s analysis and storytelling gifts shine when he is narrating his learned knowledge – and I was intrigued and delighted by the fact that there was no bibliography attached to this thoroughly investigated novel – but the dialogue of his “chance” encounters was both stagey and staged, and the persona he writes for himself in those scenes was that of a prattish, adversarial cynic pleased to be convinced by his friends’ genius. Nevertheless, a very good book, and a fine example of white Australians interacting with country and philosophy. Recommended. The glorious cover alone would make you adore it.

Some parallel-universe version of this review will appear in the next edition of the Terania Times.

Where it came from: L’s Bookshelf
Time and manner of reading: A few good reads, with quizzical devourment
Where it went: Home
Reminds me of: Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez; Blue Highways by William Least Heat-Moon
Who I’d recommend it to: Seekers of homegrown, country-centred philosophising
Also reading: Rabbit #4; How to Read a Poem by Edward Hirsch; Selected Essays by George Orwell; The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon; Kalila and Dimna by Ramsey Woods; Gifts of Unknown Things by Lyall Watson