BOOK REVIEW / A plunge into the big nowhere: The dead heart - Douglas Kennedy Little, Brown pounds 15.99

THERE IS a dispiriting sense of closure, of narrowed horizons, about life in Wollanup, a desolate and dusty once-thriving mining town in the Australian outback, which provides the setting for Douglas Kennedy's first novel. Longing for release, the inhabitants seem defeated by the poverty of their ambition; their lives amount to little more than long work-filled days and nights spent getting drunk or indulging in incestuously indiscriminate sexual couplings, or both.

The monotonous landscape offers no redemption: a flat, waterless wilderness pushes in on them from the north, and from the south there is nothing but rolling, desert hills. In this closed world the slightest incident sends waves of rumour and gossip rippling round the community; but when an American, Nick Hawthorne, arrives in town these ripples become waves, soaking everyone with fear and uncertainty.

Haunting the narrative, as he does so many young men's books, is the malign spirit of Martin Amis's early Eighties creation, John Self. Like Self, Hawthorne is a nicotine ruined, alcohol-addled, porn-fancying, infinitely restless urban man who, rotten with decadence, lacks the vitality to be sensuous. Like Self, Hawthorne is repellent and bold. His East Coast life is in great disorder. So he moves to Australia and plunges into the 'Big Nowhere'. He meets Angie and, after some sweaty sex, she, rather improbably, drugs him and takes him back to isolated Wollanup where he wakes, sprawled out in a pool of his own vomit to find that he is married to Angie and is now under the control of her monstrously bullying father, Daddy.

Kennedy squeezes considerable humour from the fallen Hawthorne's plight, gleefully describing his disintegrating relationship with his demonic wife and with her family and other Yahoos. Trapped in Wollanup and consumed by a fear of impending calamity, Hawthorne never ceases mourning the life he left behind; he never stops feeling lonely. Eventually he escapes, and the closing pages, as he is pursued across the desert by a gun-carrying Daddy, are tremendously urgent - driven, thrilling, variegated.

Though much of the writing is ordinary and sluggish with cliches (we encounter 'arctic-cold water'; a motel room that is as hot as a 'Turkish bath'), the occasional verbal flourish is very good indeed. This tension between literary endeavour and easy journalese is characteristic of Kennedy's chaotically flamboyant style, which lurches between feeble predictability and fabulous complexity.

Kennedy, who has written three travel books, succeeds in showing that what to the traveller at first seems new and revitalisingiy unfamiliar can quickly become dull and unremarkable and loathsome. Hawthorne, for instance, is initially enchanted by the savage beauty of the outback, but later he comes to despise its pitiless indifference and its sublime otherness.

'Whom the gods wish to destroy they first call promising,' wrote Cyril Connolly. And yet, with apologies to Kennedy, one is compelled to say that this book, constantly capable of amusing us, really is . . . well, promising.

Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
Arts and Entertainment
TV
News
Graham Norton said Irish broadcaster RTE’s decision to settle was ‘moronic’
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
music
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl
filmFirst look at Oscar winner as transgender artist
Arts and Entertainment
Season three of 'House of Cards' will be returning later this month
TV reviewHouse of Cards returns to Netflix
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford will play Rick Deckard once again for the Blade Runner sequel
film review
Arts and Entertainment
The modern Thunderbirds: L-R, Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John in front of their home, the exotic Tracy Island
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
    Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

    Lost without a trace

    But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
    Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

    Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

    Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
    International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
    Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

    Confessions of a planespotter

    With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
    Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

    Russia's gulag museum

    Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
    The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

    The big fresh food con

    Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
    Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

    Virginia Ironside was my landlady

    Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
    Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

    Paris Fashion Week 2015

    The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
    8 best workout DVDs

    8 best workout DVDs

    If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
    Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

    Paul Scholes column

    I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
    Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
    Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

    Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

    The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable