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Daring, dazzling, funny and heartbreaking, this is a story about fame and ambition, surfing and pine-lime Splices ... a superbly written and ambitious novel by one of Australia's rising stars. The Life will simply blow you away.
He looked into the Pacific and the Pacific looked back into him.
The Life tells the story of former-world-champion Australian surfer, Dennis Keith, from inside the very heart of the fame and madness that is 'The Life'.
Now bloated and paranoid, former Australian surfing legend Dennis Keith is holed up in his mother's retirement village, shuffling to the shop for a Pine-Lime Splice every day, barely existing behind his aviator sunnies and crazy OCD rules, and trying not to think about the waves he'd made his own and the breaks he once ruled like a god. Years before he'd been robbed of the world title that had his name on it - and then drugs, his brother, and the disappearance and murder of his girlfriend and had done the rest. Out of the blue, a young would-be biographer comes knocking and stirs up memories Dennis thought he'd buried. It takes Dennis a while to realise that she's not there to write his story at all.
Daring, ambitious, dazzling, The Life is also as real as it gets - a searing, beautiful novel about fame and ambition and the price that must sometimes be paid for reaching too high.
About The Author
Malcolm Knox is the author of Summerland, A Private Man and Jamaica, which was shortlisted for the Prime Minister's Award last year and won the Colin Roderick Award. He is also a Walkley-Award-winning journalist and author of many non-fiction titles. He came late to surfing, but is now an obsessively enthusiastic surfer, and writes about surfing and the surf with authority and great passion.
Colin Roderick Award for Jamaica. Walkley-Award-winning journalist
If Tim Winton is an aria, then Knox is early Rolling Stones.
The Life tells the story of once-world-champion Australian surfer, Dennis Keith, from inside the very heart of the fame and madness that is, as he calls himself, The Life. Now a wreck of a man, living a shambolic existence in his mother's retirement village, a chance to re-tell his story leads to an unravelling of sorts.
Knox has written a very strong novel about class, masculinity, fame and ambition through the unique and authentic voice of this once-was-warrior. This is a very rewarding book but what stands out for me the most his the way Knox seems to completely inhabit The Great DK, whom he has brought to life with what Bookseller + Publisher magazine so aptly calls "his spiky, roughly hewn prose". Personally, I found that prose utterly convincing utterly authentic, minimalist, arbitrary, oftentimes more like poetry.. The Life is a stunning read.
Author Kylie Ladd reviews The Life in a lot more detail here. As for her take on that prose, she likens it to learning to surf itself.
At first everything is all wrong: too choppy, too abrupt, you can't keep your balance or tell where you're headed, but after a while you go with it, stop noticing, you coast straight down the words, and they take you somewhere else.
The Life by Malcolm Knox. A review by author Kylie Ladd
Malcolm Knox knows how to get my attention. I first became aware of him when I chanced across his 2006 book Secrets Of The Jury Room, a dramatic account of his experiences as a juror on a lengthy criminal trial. A few years earlier I had been in a similar situation as the foreperson on a month-long trial at the Supreme Court of Victoria, a case which involved rape, arson and decapitation with a bread knife. I’d always thought I must write about it, but once I read Knox’s book I knew there was no point- he had captured the legalistic wrangling of the criminal justice system, the odd alliances that develop both within a jury and between the jury and court staff, and the fickle machinations of the deliberation room perfectly.
Next came Jamaica, a novel about a group of high school friends who attempt to put aside old grievances to compete as a team in a long distance swimming race in the Caribbean. High school certainly wasn’t the best time of my life, and swimming was my sport back then… let’s just say I sympathised when it seemed that some characters would be drowned by their own teammates before the event even began. Thankfully, I had no personal connection to Knox’s next book, Scattered, a sobering investigation into the escalating grip of the drug ice on Australia, but once I heard about The Life I knew I had to read it.
The Life, Knox’s fourth novel, is a book like a wave. Telling the story of once world-champion surfer Dennis Keith, it gains momentum in the shallows of Coolangatta, crests at Hawaii during the first world title of the sport, then crashes down, leaving DK, as he is known, beached at a retirement village in his fifties, 18 stone and no longer able to stand up on a board, subsisting on a combination of pills, pine-lime Splices and hand-washing rituals. My eleven year old son took up surfing about a year ago. Or rather, it took him up… he has swiftly become entranced, obsessed, addicted to the sea, to the swell, to his board. At its core, The Life is about this addiction, about the ocean “lit up with huge smashing sucking six-footers”, about shutting your eyes and seeing “easterly lines… (the) staircase outside the room was a six foot drop… grass bank in the lunch area was a fat shoulder ripe for a roundhouse cutback”; about how surfing reinvents you, “like every wave was a new swipe with a big wet cloth on the blackboard.”
That said, The Life isn’t Breath… but that’s absolutely no criticism. Comparisons between the two novels are impossible to avoid- both centre their stories around surfing, the sea; around teenage boys growing up so consumed with mastering waves that the rest of their life falls into disarray. Apart from this though, the two books share little more than their authors’ scant regard for punctuation and positive aversion to quotation marks. I loved Breath, Tim Winton’s Miles Franklin award winning novel, but as the quote from British newspaper The Guardian emblazoned across my proof copy of The Life says, “If Winton is an aria, Knox is early Rolling Stones.”
It’s an apt comparison. Winton is effortlessly fluid and graceful; Knox, in The Life (which interestingly is a complete departure from his style in Jamaica), is a brand new sound, one that jangles your nerves and makes you ask “What is this?” The story is told in the third person and then the first, jumps around between past and present without warning, is crammed with half-sentences, broken sentences, with repetition and colloquialisms, with thoughts that wander around for a bit on the page, then dive down and resurface a chapter or two later, planed back, made smooth. Without wanting to push the metaphor too far, it occurred to me half way through reading The Life that adjusting to Knox’s cadences, to the rise and fall of the language in the novel must be like learning to surf. At first everything is all wrong: too choppy, too abrupt, you can’t keep your balance or tell where you’re headed, but after a while you go with it, stop noticing, you coast straight down the words, and they take you somewhere else.
And that somewhere else is surprisingly moving. DK is a potentially extremely unlikeable figure: he stalks the local breaks, terrorising out-of-towners so they never dare surf his beach again; he ruins his own brother’s chances at an Australian title by taking off with his board; he moves in on the girlfriends of his mates just to mess with their minds. Most damning of all, he squanders his potential- his youth, his smarts, his chances; his extraordinary ability, the adoration and love of those around him. It would be easy to detest such a character, yet when the BFO- Keith’s bi-fricken-ographer, as he calls her- turns up and starts scrabbling at the pieces of his life the picture that emerges is altogether different.
I have been exposed, courtesy of my son, to enough Tracks magazines, to enough YouTube clips, to enough surfing legend and lore to suspect that the character of DK is loosely based on enigmatic Australian surfer Michael Peterson, another who tangled with heroin and the law, and, having been diagnosed with schizophrenia, lives today in semi-isolation on the Gold Coast. The similarities between the two are striking, right down to their mothers’ work as prawn peelers and their penchant for lemonade over beer. But it doesn’t matter. “The Life” of the novel’s title is defined early on as “this mythic world where you could surf as much as you want, any day, every day, go anywhere it was good”- the dream, in other words, of the would-be pro surfer. Yet in the end that’s not what the book is about either. It’s about DK and DK’s life, the waves and the wipe-outs, about how obsession defines, then destroys you, and it is Knox’s finest achievement to date.
Published: 29th May 2011
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Dimensions (cm): 23.5 x 15.7 x 3.000
Weight (kg): 0.54