Forgotten authors no 24: Maryann Forrest

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The Independent Culture

This column requires two kinds of detective work; I track down the authors, but if you’re interested then you have to locate the books. Throughout the process, one author has continued to block further investigation. I knew that the Australian-born Maryann Forrest was someone to check out when I read a description of her in Time Out as “a stunning writer, so superb and alive a talent”.

Anthony Burgess picked up on her first and only major novel, describing it as “deeply disturbing” but “a keen literary pleasure”. Here (Away From it All) is an adult Lord of the Flies involving wealthy holidaymakers instead of schoolchildren. A Greek island has been ruined by opportunistic tourism; overrun with timeshares and package tours, its natives have been marginalised and employed as service personnel. One day an unspecified world event occurs which ends all contact with the island, so that foreign currency is suddenly rendered worthless. Hotel guests find themselves paying their bills with watches, rings and necklaces. But when the material goods run out, they need something else to barter with. And as the rules of civility become ever more strained, the islanders start to exact revenge.

The protagonist, a young mother, watches in horror as the unnamed island – the world in microcosm – breaks down into rebellion and anarchy. The revengers have Greek names but there is no racism here, because a silver thread of humanity runs through the characters, thus refusing easy demonisation, and the heroine remains upbeat even as all hope fades. The tale is post-apocalyptic and descends inexorably to a horrifying climax, but is written from a deeply personal viewpoint. Cormac McCarthy’s The Road is probably the only book that comes close in its bleak subject matter.

Published in 1969, Here feels alarmingly prescient, but when I tried to find out more about its author I drew a total blank. One editor suggested that she had actually escaped the world by moving to the Greek island described in her novel, but this seems unlikely as there are two other books, Us Lot and Immaculate Misconception, written within three years of her first. It appears she was using a pseudonym, and although there are plenty of Mary Ann Forrests listed in the Australian electoral rolls, the trail runs cold after that. Perhaps a reader can help? All three books can still be found cheaply on the internet, but there are no reprints.