An elliptical and beautifully evoked contemporary coming-of-age story from newcomer Jay Carmichael. Quietly compelling and stylistically assured, Ironbark examines the life of a young man, Markus, who is struggling to come to terms with his sexuality while living in a tiny, drought-ridden town in rural Australia.
Shortlisted for the 2016 Victorian Premier’s Unpublished Manuscript Award
He shouldn’t have a life he never asked for and be expected to love men. With their problems never spoken outward. And childhood trauma and family issues. Men wanting to be held or hold.
Markus Bello’s life has stalled. Living in a small country town, mourning the death of his best friend, Grayson, Markus is isolated and adrift. As time passes, and life continues around him, Markus must try to face his grief, and come to terms with what is left.
Stylistically assured and quietly compelling, Ironbark is an elliptical and beautifully evoked contemporary coming-of-age story. Through his protagonist, Markus, newcomer Jay Carmichael depicts the conflict and confusion of life as a gay man in rural Australia, and explores how place can shape personal identity by both offering and restricting potential. A moving portrait of grief and loss, Ironbark is also a devastating account of the toll exacted by our society’s expectations of what it means to be a man.
“Jay Carmichael approaches the world as a poet, from an angle that is all his own. He reveals a hidden, pulsing reality beneath the surface of the everyday.”
Miles Allinson, author of Fever of Animals
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“In sparse and quiet prose, Jay Carmichael's debut is an enveloping novel about grief, survival, and the futility of finding peace in a place you don't belong.”
Shaun Prescott, author of The Town
“It is convincing as the voice of a young man full of longing, awkwardness and a passion for things he will no doubt soon grow out of…Ironbark is a book about being stuck: the story does not develop so much as deepen.”
“[An] accomplished debut…Carmichael has a poetic turn of phrase, and he plays with time, moving the story back and forth…keeping readers on their toes.”
“What Ironbark captures beautifully is the yearning one might feel while growing up unable to understand or express love and attraction freely; a yearning to kiss your best friend, a longing for an end to a loneliness, like cracked land waiting for rain. Ironbark is a still, quiet, compelling novel that reaches an ending both sad and peaceful.”
“The novel draws deeply on the love of nature that once inspired Carmichael to pursue botanical science…It is almost poetic in its descriptions of a slightly surreal landscape overcome by an oncoming storm that seems to mirror Markus’ silent struggles.”
“[A] subtle, impressionistic novel about adolescent alienation and masculinity in rural Australia … As the narrative progresses, Carmichael adjusts the focus, bringing his story, characters and imagery into sharper, though never completely clear, view … Carmichael paints an exquisitely tender portrait of doomed adolescent longing and love.”
Sophie Quick, The Monthly
“Ironbark is an elegant novel, one that reveals itself slowly. It is both a wonderful evocation of the listlessness of grief and a disturbing portrait of shame and self-doubt. In many ways the story is as familiar as the town, hot and dusty with drought, but it is also fresh and new, as it questions with an unexpected urgency what it means to be a man.”
“While it feels like a cliché to call a novel—especially one by a first-time author—‘assured’, it is the phrase I kept returning to while reading this debut offering from young Victorian writer Jay Carmichael. His clean and polished prose possesses the kind of confidence that puts readers at ease …Ironbark is a poised and atmospheric work that reveals Carmichael as an author to watch.”
Chris Somerville, Readings