Demons: Wayne Macauley

Wayne Macauley’s novel, Demons, is set over the course of one winter weekend and concerns a groups of friends who gather together at a remote coastal house and, there, without the distractions of children, computers and televisions, they plan to “stop time,” by just enjoying each other’s company, fixing group meals, and swopping stories. It’s supposed to be a time “to get back to something real.”

Gathering together for the weekend are film-maker Megan and musician Evan, “lately gone a bit to seed,” who have “five kids between them, late teens to early twenties,” lawyer Adam and Lauren whose career is “in advocacy,” retired journalist Leon (Megan’s brother), “he’d beaten the grog with naturopathy, meditation and yoga, and the cure had clung to him almost as persistently as the disease” and Hannah, his new girlfriend– the youngest in the group.

demonsPolitician Marshall and his wife, Jackie are also expected but Marshall arrives late and without Jackie:

Is he with Jackie? said Megan. Evan looked out, and shook his head. If he thinks he can still get something to eat then he can go fuck himself, she said. Marsh! said Evan, waving, but Marshall was already at the door.

That short quote gives you an idea of the author’s style, and while the tone and the conversations are startlingly realistic, it’s sometimes difficult to tell who is saying what since this conversation-heavy text is completely devoid of quote marks.

As the weekend wears on, members of the group, a rather privileged cross-section of Australian society, take turns telling stories, and of course telling stories about other people and their problems allows those listening to make various comments about what they’ve heard. But in between these disturbing stories, which range from the deadly serious to the trivial, various problems between these people begin to emerge, and soon, the planned weekend takes a different turn…

It’s Marshall’s arrival that begins to change the atmosphere. He arrives after abandoning his wife during a family tragedy, and his decision to leave his wife and join his friends at the coast says a great deal about Marshall, and while the characters focus on story-telling as entertainment, it becomes clear that the characters also fabricate a kind of fiction around their own lives.

While I can’t say that I liked the characters much, the dialogue and interactions seemed very real indeed, but overall, I carried away the feeling that this might be one of those rare instances in which a film version could be better than the book. I found myself enjoying the stories told by the characters more than the interactions between the friends. In particular, I enjoyed Leon’s story which he claims is true: The Broken String. Leon prefaces the story with the announcement that it’s “about the death of idealism … and the growth of expediency.”

These entertaining stories reveal a great deal about the storyteller, and yet… there’s the sense that Macauley’s characters have fabricated these stories to make salient, social commentary in order to impress one another or to impose some sort of moral message. In other words, there’s no small amount of posing going on as one might expect from this particular, privileged cranny of Australian society. We all know people like Macauley’s characters, and while reading about them & listening to them talk sounds very real, at the same time, I know I wouldn’t want to spend a weekend with this lot.

Ultimately, the stories these characters tell were, for this reader at least, the best part of the book. Megan’s story about a nurse who fights against the bureaucracy of Australian health care hits a nerve even as it uncovers the absurdity of managing recovery :

There’s not much time for any of the Florence Nightingale stuff. Key Performance Indicators, that’s the mantra: people are numbers, even sick people. Especially sick people. It’s an obsession. I don’t know when it started–it’s already lost in the mists of time–but someone at some point decided that the way to improve a screwed-up health system was to ask the bean counters to make it more ‘efficient.’

It became a numbers game. The government put a carrot in front and a stick behind: move the patients through faster and you’ll be rewarded, slower and you’ll be punished.

But when the novel reverts back to its characters, there’s the feeling that we’ve seen these types before–shallow, selfish, self-focused people facing the terrifying void of middle age and discovering that their lives haven’t turned out the way they planned. Naturally the weekend implodes, but the implosion was a storm in a teacup, and the Demons aren’t much more than time-worn, middle-age, middle-class angst.

Review copy

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20 Comments

Filed under Fiction, Macauley Wayne

20 responses to “Demons: Wayne Macauley

  1. It sounds like a film I’ve seen, though I haven’t. Still, the familiar subject matter means it’s all in the execution doesn’t it? I suspect you may be right that this may be one to wait for the movie of.

    I did like the first quote, it seemed rather nicely done.

    • I read somewhere a comparison to the film The Big Chill which I haven’t seen.
      Yes the dialogue is well done but it can be a bit frustrating trying to work out the speeches at times.

      • The Big Chill was exactly what came to mind as I read the first paras and the description of the members of the weekend, down to the fellow with the new younger girlfriend. (That film has such a wonderful opening sequence to the song, I heard it on the grapevine. It’s memorable just for that, almost!) I’ve heard good things about Macauley but am afraid to day that I haven’t read him yet. Maybe I won’t start with the one, though the premise does intrigue me. We’ll see …

  2. I like Wayne Macauley, but I found something a bit false in the set-up of this one. Like you, I enjoyed many of the stories but the characters seemed selected to be representative of certain forms of middle-class angst that really didn’t interest me much. He’s such an innovative writer I wondered if he was doing a kind of exercise in this genre where a group of people gather together to tell stories, but I couldn’t see that it added much to the genre.

  3. He is such an idiosyncratic writer that I hesitate to recommend – you might love or absolutely hate. Perhaps Caravan Story, which is about the fate of art in our mass culture. I haven’t read The Cook, which attracted a lot of attention here – a bit squeamish.

  4. Wayne Macauley is a beaut author, but this is not his best. I recommend The Cook, which was published to rave reviews, including mine: http://anzlitlovers.com/2011/10/29/the-cook-by-wayne-macauley/

  5. It does sound interesting but I’m not sure how I’d cope with the heavy dialogue sections – I’m not too fond of books that appear to be trying to make a point either.

  6. I middle-age angst can be an interesting topic.

    However judging from you comments it seems as if this one falls a little short. Interactions in a book like this are really important. It is a pity that you found those to be lacking here.

  7. I absolutely love the premise and I’m disappointed you didn’t find it as good as it sounded. I would have placed an order right away. But it seems he’s an author to keep in m ind. I hope they make a movie out of this. That could be really good.

  8. I understand why you requested this review copy: this setting is the kind of novels you like.

    Have you seen the film Mes meilleurs copains? That’s what this book reminds me.

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