How it Feels by Brendan Cowell

by |September 4, 2010

How it FeelsYou have to hope that there isn’t too much of a self portrait in Brendan Cowell’s debut novel How it Feels. A quick check on the ubiquitous Wikipedia and it feels crushingly like Neil, the first person narrator in this story of suburban darkness that sucks out your soul. If Neil’s story is based on Cowell’s own, you have to wonder how he survived it.

Cowell is of course the much beloved actor, screenwriter and director. With the everyman good looks, he is known to audiences for his roles in Noise, Love my Way and Beneath Hill 60. He grew up in the beach suburbs of southern Sydney, the Shire as it is known, a place that is fiercely protective of its own culture. Sylvannia Waters (of 1990s television fame) is in the Shire. So is Cronulla Beach, the location of the race riots of December 2005.

How it Feels starts with Neil, his two mates Stuart and Gordon, and his girlfriend Courtney,  celebrating the end of school and contemplating their new adult lives. The scene is set during twelve hours of partying – twelve hours which sees lives changed, love unleashed, virginity lost and secrets buried.

A decade later, one is dead, one is famous, two are getting married and the truth is about to erupt.

How it FeelsHow it Feels is not a comfortable read. In fact, I don’t think I have had such a visceral reaction to a book since reading Christos Tsoilkas’ Dead Europe. Having said that, I picked up the proof copy at about 2 this afternoon, and didn’t put it down until I had got to the very last page.

Tsoilkas of course is much better known as the author of the Man Booker prize listed The Slap, which is a busts wide open the complexities of our multicultural inner suburban cities. He is certainly fascinated by our urban psyche and he recently endorsed Fiona McGregor’s Indelible Ink, which centred around a middle aged woman from a wealthy suburb who was finally waking up to possibility. Indelible Ink missed the mark with me. How it Feels is however in another class altogether. This is what Tsoilkas has to say about it.

How it Feels is a lacerating, blackly comic novel about the suburban masculine psyche, but it also extends a warmth and understanding to contemporary society that confronted my prejudices and force me to look at the world anew. Cowell’s voice is truthful, without any condescension. A smashing novel – urgent, challenging and humane”.

He is completely correct.

How it Feels was released in November

How it Feels is a blowtorch to the belly of the suburban dream. It is an unflinching in its dissection of the ties that bind, and the forces that blow everything apart. Cowell clearly has the voice of the contemporary Australian male, and it is a voice that is howling into the wind.

Brendan answered our Ten Terrifying Questions here

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  • September 16, 2010 at 3:21 pm

    I really can’t wait for this and I love ‘uncomfortable’ books – the more uncomfortable the better! 🙂

  • Julia Foster

    October 6, 2010 at 5:50 pm

    I saw Brendan on the book club last night and was pleasantly shocked to see such a young guy talking so passionately about a book (thanks for introducing me to The Catcher in the Rye by the way). I look forward to reading his book.

  • Alex

    November 30, 2010 at 1:34 pm

    I am currently reading this book… really struggling with it. too much in your face and way too graphic. saying that I won’t give up on it but won’t be reading it again

    • Clarke

      December 5, 2010 at 9:51 am

      I read this novel avidly. It is certainly no-holds-barred and Brendan Cowell’s observations about life and people are so perceptive and honest that I have actually marked passages that have particularly struck me!

      At the moment I am going back through the book to re-read the bits I marked and to identify other sections that I want to remember.

      The first thing I marked was on page 2 when young Neil is with his girlfriend:
      “I looked down into her eyes and like every other time my dick connected with my soul and the world went static and floppy.” (For me, this is a case of “what was thought, but ne’er so well expressed”. I’m amazed that it is said by a male author who is prepared to acknowledge that this condition exists let alone express it so succinctly!

      I’m a 69 year-old and I found the novel completely absorbing. But that could well be the reason that younger people are finding it hard going — sometimes you need to have already lived through a young life and beyond, to fully appreciate novels that re-create the world and thinking of a young person. (Compare “Cider with Rosey” — not liked by 17 year-olds who are” too close to it” to fully appreciate the young character’s observations.)

  • Robbo

    December 31, 2010 at 2:53 pm

    Just finished this book which I recieved for chhristmas. WOW!! Iloved every minute of it and couldn’t put it down. Such an honest book for showing male feelings and how we males struggle to express our emotions etc.. I recommend this book to anyone with an open mind and will be giving it to all my mates to read. Congratulations to Brendan and I look forward to seeing it become a movie oneday but only if brendan has a major part in putting it together. It would be a massive hit IMO

  • mandi

    November 27, 2011 at 9:06 pm

    i am loving this book. 2/3 of the way through. thanks brendon for writing it. and i love you as an actor too. saw you on the slap the other night. excellent. long may you continue. xx

  • Sally

    January 23, 2012 at 1:07 am

    Am up to part 3 of How It feels, love the book. Book club book and was very unexcited until I started reading it. I haven’t been able to put it down and will LOVE recommending it to my friends ………..unless the ending is a let down. Admire that it is so raw and brave and how did you ask your mum to read the drafts……Do you want to attend our Bookclub review feb 10th in perth, I am sure you will be well received!

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