Feather Man

Rhyll McMaster

Brandl & Schlesinger, Australia, 2007
Marion Boyars, UK and USA 2008

Winner of the Australian Society of
inaugural Barbara Jefferis
Award, 2008



Rhyll McMaster, Feather Man, extracts

‘I walk up to my painting of Christine and a paper plaque tells me that I have won. It is an acquisitive prize worth $400.
    Pamela is busy in the crowd, talking to a group of much older people. When she sees me she walks up, brisk. "Well, Doll, you must be pleased. I must say, it’s a good portrait. Who taught you?"
    "I taught myself." I feel myself stiffen. "I’m not an art student."
    She smiles at me as if she’s worked everything out. "I can see that. Listen Doll, come and meet this nice man over here. He’s going to put you in a book. Young Australian Art —something like that. Here, have a wine. Something to hold onto." She grabs a glass as she passes a drinks table. She has beautiful hands, long, boneless, tapering, with dark red nails. On one arm she wears a fat, tubular silver bangle. It gives me a twinge of envy and regret in memory of my thin, childish gold bangle.
    I meet the publisher. He wears a collarless Nehru jacket and speaks with an English private-school accent. He is not unctuous but he holds my elbow as he talks. So tall that he stoops, he is a man in charge. He has a young woman in tow, whose dark hair is in a Hiawatha plait down her back. There is an older couple whose names I do not catch. The publisher mentions something about angels and treats the older couple with jovial deference. I don’t care about his books. But I feel my star rising. They won’t swamp me.
    I catch sight of Redmond. He comes up to us and puts his hands on my shoulders. "What did I tell you, Clive? Isn’t she a beauty? My little protégé."
    His words shiver through me. Some action of the waves is tapping and surging beneath my keel but already the boundless ocean that is Redmond has buoyed me up. While one part of me promises itself that it will watch the currents, the other drifts on the swell, hypnotised by the image of landfall, a long, long way ahead under the horizon line. At last I am riding on something I trust to carry me with it.’

(Chapter 29, The Prize)


Reviews and responses to the book

‘McMaster achieves many brilliant effects…a tour de force of vivid and surprising imagery and allusion, as well as wonderfully cadenced sentences that draw the reader into the girl’s painful reactions to the world around her…the early pages embrace beguiling though disturbing, even perhaps shocking, images of suburban life in Brisbane…Her eye for detail, for recognizing the exceptional in the most mundane of things, illuminates these pages. The seedy ordinariness of life in London is superbly conveyed. The satiric strain that distinguishes some of the earlier sections—the marvellous comedy of a Brisbane wedding for instance—survives the journey to London. A nightmarish episode set in a grim, ill-lit hospital is particularly vivid. And, almost everywhere, the rich texture of allusions, imagery and remembrances of things past…The last chapter resolves the novel’s principal images in a fundamentally musical manner…’
Andrew Riemer, The Sydney Morning Herald , 28 April 2007

‘Rhyll McMaster tosses us in at the deep end…she makes this novel so much more than a simple story: in the clever patterns of imagery, the brilliant descriptions, the narrative structure and the understanding– more and more absent from contemporary fiction– that a good novel has something to say about the world.’
Kerryn Goldsworthy, The Australian, 2-3 June 2007

‘Highly original, extraordinarily well-written, told within a brilliant and exact mise-en-scène …wrapped in finely ironic and analytically acute prose…the way it is organised is very much what the Balzacs and Updikes of this world use to make their own structures… I truly admire it.’
Peter Porter

‘…in a class of its own.’
Australian Book Review

Good Reading magazine

‘Rhyll McMaster’s debut novel is simultaneously a portrait of an artist, an examination of the emotional alchemy from which art is born and a coming-of-age tale. The juxtaposition of mystery and harsh grit lends the book a compelling friction.’
Helen Oyeyemi, New Statesman , London, 17 April 2008jj

‘Rhyll McMaster is an extraordinary writer. Her prose is dazzling, poetic and thought-provoking, and this is literary fiction at its best.’
Lisa Glass, Vulpes Libris  online

‘Rhyll McMaster is not afraid of the big themes…The novel’s final sentence, the perfect way to end it, will leave you gasping…It’s a treat to read the work of someone who can express things so compellingly. I am itching to read McMaster’s next novel.’
Louise Swinn, Overland 189, 2007
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