In the late afternoon of a day in February, that hottest of Australian summer months, when a brutal sun stood bronze above the river flats which you may see from the dormitory windows of Chatterton, Charles came to the school with his mother, walking from the railway station to the gates by a private path across a burnt, untidy field, overhung with Cape lilacs that still drooped, dusty and melancholy...In the lower part of his belly fear kicked and pulsed like a child in the womb, ready to be born.
Fifteen-year-old Charles Fox is sent away to boarding school, innocent, alone and afraid. There one of his masters develops an intense attachment to him. But when Charles meets Margaret, a girl staying at a nearby farm for the holidays, he is besotted, and a passionate, unforgettable romance begins.
Published in London in 1937 to wide acclaim, The Young Desire It is a stunning debut novel about coming of age: an intimate and lyrical account of first love, and a rich evocation of rural Western Australia. It won the Australian Literature Society Gold Medal, and is now back in print for the first time in years with a new introduction by David Malouf.
Read John Purcell's Review
There is nothing so seductive and yet elusive as the memories of our first experiences in love. We can recall the actions - shared glances, a sweet paralysis, then the first touch, perhaps a chaste kiss - but this is not what we desire. We want to feel again the fear, the pleasure, the tremors and the foreign breath. But it is this that eludes us.
Unless we stumble across an artist who can recreate these feelings for us.
Recently Text Publishing sent me a copy of The Young Desire It by Kenneth Mackenzie. Published to acclaim in 1937 and virtually lost to us since Mackenzie's early death in 1955, The Young Desire It is another great find and perfect fit for the Text Classics collection.
This is very much the work of a young novelist. Recounting a home schooled adolescent's experiences after he is sent to boarding school, there is very little story beyond this transformational transition from boy to man. Mackenzie was just seventeen when he started writing the novel and twenty-five when it was published. He was as close to the subject as any artist can hope to be and within these pages Mackenzie has captured for all time the sensation of first love. For which we must all be thankful though some may find the poetical prose hard going.
About the Author
Kenneth Mackenzie was born in 1913 in South Perth. His parents divorced in 1919, and he grew up with his mother and maternal grandfather on a property at Pinjarra, south of Perth. He was a sensitive child who developed an intense love of nature.
At age thirteen Mackenzie was sent to board at Guildford Grammar School in Perth. His experiences there informed his first novel, The Young Desire It, published under the name Seaforth Mackenzie by Jonathan Cape in 1937. The author was just twenty-three.
The novel drew praise from The Times, Spectator and Sydney Morning Herald; the Liverpool Daily Post called it ‘amazingly brilliant’. It was awarded the Australian Literature Society Gold Medal.
By this time Mackenzie had studied law, worked as a journalist and moved to Sydney. There he met the leading lights of the literary scene—among them Kenneth Slessor and Norman Lindsay—and married. He and his wife had a daughter and a son.
Mackenzie’s subsequent novels were Chosen People (1938), Dead Men Rising (1951), based partly on his experience of the Cowra prisoner breakout, and The Refuge (1954). He also produced two volumes of poetry.
Kenneth Mackenzie’s last years were spent mainly alone, in declining health and battling alcoholism, at Kurrajong in New South Wales. On 19 January 1955 he drowned in mysterious circumstances while swimming in Tallong Creek, near Goulburn.
`The Young Desire It is a revelation: a coming-of-age novel from 1937 that deserves a place alongside the classics in this genre. It's a feverish, fascinating, and surprising look into the mind of an adolescent discovering a sense of self in his quest for love. It's also a remarkably nuanced and moving portrait of the struggles of those around him to come to terms with their own lives and longings.' -- Will Schwalbe, author of The End of Your Life Book Club
`A book to set beside James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man...The best novel I've read in a long, long time...One of the great stories of first love...Why isn't this stunning novel famous?' -- Michael Dirda * Washington Post *
'A hymn to youth, to life, to sexual freedom and moral independence.' -- David Malouf
'A beautifully written story of a sensitive boy's movement towards adult love.' * Sydney Morning Herald *
'Mackenzie's prose is at its most sparkling and most sensuous in this novel, and he evokes the hot Western Australian landscape with rare force...[The Young Desire It] is a pastoral charged with the awakening of desire, like spring.'
* Douglas Stewart *
'The Young Desire It
is an extraordinary novel, dazzling in its texture, wholly original in its vision, and heartbreaking in the power and freshness of the story it tells.'
-- Peter Craven * Australian Book Review *
'The Young Desire It
is one of the most brilliant, confident and unusual instances of a Bildungsroman
in Australian literature.' -- Peter Pierce * Sydney Review of Books *
'Sensitive, vital and erotic.' -- Veronica Brady * Australian Dictionary of Biography *
'The Young Desire It
reminds us there is more than a single line of descent in Australian literature...Mackenzie, who died, penniless and forgotten in his 50s, turns out to be a missing link in our literary tradition. The family tree burgeons at his return.' * Weekend Australian *
'An extremely impressive work of fiction that well deserves this reissue by Text Publishing...A novel to be welcomed back to Australian literature's available past.' * Age *
'The novel is distinguished by a rare sensitivity and an impressive ethical and psychological wisdom...its seamless narrative is able to probe the depths and ambiguities of its characters' personalities and lives.' * SMH/Canberra Times *'The Young Desire It
presents the adolescent boy's view with power and poignancy.' * The Times *
'A first novel of exceptional interest and originality.' * Spectator *
'The Young Desire It
is suffused in such rich language and evocative allusions it is surprisingly hard to put aside.' * NZ Weekend Herald *
'This intensely personal work is a beautiful ode of colonial childhood.' * Dominion Post/Weekend Press *
'The growing intimacy between the two young people unfolds subtly and with great delicacy...With the power of language, Mackenzie creates an atmosphere of intimacy that is all his own.' * Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung *