Wayne Macauley was one of my festival discoveries at the 2013 Auckland Writers and Readers Festival. I read Blueprints for a Barbed-Wire Canoe in preparation for attending his session (now that’s conscientious festival-going). It reminded me of Colm Tóibín and for me there can be no higher praise. They don’t share subject matter or style, but they both manage to be spellbinding without being showy.
Blueprints is Macauley’s first novel. In it the suburban dream of owning your own home goes very wrong very quickly. Macauley’s description of the physical decay of a model housing estate resonated very strongly with me, in my second year of living in the east of Christchurch.
It’s on Year 12 reading lists in Australia, which is great if you want the kids to read an exemplary prose stylist, but could be a fail if you want them to aspire to home ownership in the suburbs.
Year 12 is when Macauley’s own life changed; a ‘drop-dead gorgeous’ teacher got the class to read Joyce, Hamlet, Voss and The Waste Land. Now his work may be changing the lives of the kids who read him.
In his sessions at Auckland Writers and Readers Festival, it became evident that Macauley is a deep thinker, looking at things most of us take for granted and taking our ideas about them just a little bit further.
In Blueprints for a Barbed-Wire Canoe it’s the suburban dream. In The Cook it’s the service industry and the jobs that have replaced manufacturing. Is this good? In Caravan Story it’s the desirability of the arts in society. How many writers and artists do we need?
It’s a big ask for a reader to question things more deeply than they would in an ordinary narrative. But in the hands of a writer as skilled as Macauley it’s a very rewarding undertaking. The man has written an entire book without using one comma.