I ordered my copy of Mt Hotham on the internet. Prime book-reading season was in full-swing, and I eagerly anticipated the time when I was finally able to open the cover. I had read a short-story version many years ago, and I knew this work was likely to be a pre-eminent example of its genre.
I got my copy on Friday morning. The sun shone on pages that felt icy fresh in my hands, as a good book should. The type had been set the day before and was still drying. To read a book while the ink is still fresh remains a novelty in Australia. Although many pages had been opened and most of the ink was drying fast, it still felt good. Even as I read the climatic final pages of the book on Sunday afternoon, the ink was, in a few glorious places, as new.
The storyline of Mt Hotham is simple. It may even appear repetitive to those uninitiated in the style of the author, A.Alps. The author evokes the flux of the contemporary social condition with his insistence on a dizzying sequence of ups and downs.
Indeed, after several chapters, the wearying effect of these ups and downs calls into question their very purpose. The reader is led to query whether the malaise is not just that of the book, but of their existence.
But, like the best experimental jazz, the tome is replete with interludes and bridges that serve to whet the appetite for a return to the up and down motif. The reader is drawn ever more willingly onward. As the book reaches its conclusion the interludes grow ever shorter as the ups and downs dominate.
Several interludes occur in a location known as ‘Snake Gully Hut’. This obviously metaphorical location regenerates the characters, while simultaneously exacting a great price from them. In reflecting this dualism even at the micro-level, Alps displays the richness of text we have come to expect from a master of the oeuvre.
Where for the most part the book is concerned with rushing winds, sharp coldness, greys, whites and quiet open spaces, at times the writing style permits a close, rich intoxicating haze to envelop the reader. Narrated by a scene-stealing character with the unlikely name of Gravbrot Lodge, these chapters of the book evoke softness and warmth to provide a convivial and jubilant sensation. The contrast is a remarkable achievement from a writer at the peak of their craft, and Alps certainly merits the fine reviews his novella has garnered.
One chapter deserves mention in these pages. Unlike many, this one was nameless. It appeared – perhaps deliberately – not to have been proof-read. The Author is no doubt aware that to a certain kind of reader, this un-smoothed wildness appeals all the more. The chapter features a light-hearted crew of characters making a momentous journey, with many twists and many turns. They remain unaware, despite the most literal of signs, that not all of their number will make it through unscathed.
While the impact on one character in this chapter is graphic, literal and immediate, the reader is left in no doubt that each of these sharply drawn and recognisably realistic characters will be subtly changed by the event. The mix of despair and levity in their situation is heart-wrenching, and the scenes in the medical centre will remain in the reader’s mind for some time.
Mt Hotham is an inspiring read. Unputdownable. 5/5 snowflake-shaped stars.