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Pensive Peter Salmon

Proof of Pudding


What discerning judges have said about The Coffee Story

'It's been a while since I read a first novel that felt as universally accomplished as Peter Salmon's The Coffee Story' - Toby Litt

'I was constantly intoxicated by a sense of desire & loss' - Jake Arnott

'Wild and raucous... an extraordinarily accomplished debut' - Niall Griffiths

'Reminiscent of Phillip Roth's Everyman. But it's much, much funnier' - Sydney Morning Herald

'An exceptional debut' - Martyn Bedford

Hard Sell

I Hate Martin Amis et al

Spent the last couple of days reading the marvellous I Hate Martin Amis et al by Peter Barry in preparation for my panel at The Melbourne Writers Festival. To be honest, I approached this book with some trepidation. The central premise – a frustrated writer takes his revenge on the publishing industry for failing to recognise the genius of his manuscript – meant that if the book was rubbish, it would really be rubbish . But, dear God, it’s an astonishing novel.

The protagonist, Milan Zorec, is a ‘failed novelist’. His last rejection carries the handwritten note ‘Scarcely original. Feel I’ve read this before’. Outraged, he decides to tell a story that is utterly original. He will – literally – become a sniper for Milosevic in Sarajevo and describe the experience. He will do so unflinchingly, and if the book was simply this story and no other then the manuscript would be powerful enough. But Barry interweaves this experience with Zorec’s revenge fantasies about not being able to get published. Again, this could have lapsed into self-indulgence, but doesn’t. I kept listening for Barry’s own voice to sneak through, but it never does – the character he has created is complete. And truly horrible.

Barry’s skill is to let us watch this character at his worst, and never fall into the trap of allowing us to sympathise with him, so that, as a reader, we are left in complete doubt as to whether his grievances are in any way justified. There is considerable restraint in this – the book could either have become a rant, or could have given Zorec a moment that sentimentalises him. It never does. The narraative voice holds absolutely, and at no point are we given the easy option of cheering Zorec on. It takes great courage and skill to write a character this tight. It makes for a truly thought-provoking, truly unsettling novel.

Questions

 

As I walk the London streets pulling my little trolley of copies of The Coffee Story by Peter Salmon (an Australian author now living in England) from bookshop to bookshop, the question the young people – with their day-glo string bikinis and their jazz bebop heroin haircuts – ask me more than any other is, ‘So Peter Salmon (an Australian author now living in England), you’ve written a magnificent new novel, The Coffee Story, by Peter Salmon. How does it start? And I always give one answer – ‘It starts like this…

The coffee here, thank you for asking, is the worst fucking coffee I have ever tasted, and that’s saying something, considering the shit my second wife used to make. A man who in his prime could have had any coffee bean and any woman in the world, but who went and fell in love with that pallid slip of whatsit with her flat shoes and floral prints, her grey eyes and moral certitude. Christ alone knows how she used to get rid of all the flavour…

 

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