THE DEVIL’S MADNESS
Author: Dominique Wilson
Transit Lounge RRP $29.95
Review: Monique Mulligan
Dominique Wilson’s first novel The Yellow Papers was an outstanding read, and the same can be said of That Devil’s Madness. Her writing is finely crafted, her prose poetic and subtle, and a joy to read.
That Devil’s Madness takes readers from Australia to Algeria, following the dual and interconnected stories of Nicolette, an Australian photojournalist in the 1970s, and her predecessors, who moved to Africa’s north in search of a better life in 1896. Through Louis (and his father’s viewpoints) readers discover the challenges facing settlers to the area, not the least the clash of cultures between the tribes and settlers. Louis, following the footsteps of his father, befriends a Berber boy, and despite their differences, they become like brothers. But is there a tipping point for friendship? What happens when politics get in the way?
Years later, Nicolette returns to her childhood home; her official brief is to cover the illness and eventual death of Algerian President Boumedienne, but she has her own agenda – to find her childhood friends and reconnect with them. She’s never forgotten those carefree days, and despite the highly tense political situation and danger that flares unexpectedly, wants to restore the bonds her grandfather once built. She’s shocked to find that the rules have changed. What once was, is no more. But is she looking at the past with rose-coloured glasses, with childish idealism? Or did she just faze out what she didn’t want to see back then?
That Devil’s Madness simmers with emotional tension from start to finish, and paints a multi-layered portrait of conflict: idealism versus duty, friendship versus loyalty, war versus peace, tradition versus progression, male roles versus female roles. Although it’s set in between 1896 to the 1970s, it’s startlingly relevant to modern readers – these conflicts exist every day, all over the world. Wilson explores conflict in all its fragility, contrariness, power and uncertainty, in a manner that holds no punches, but saves the biggest for the end.
The specific nature of the Algerian conflict was new to me; it’s powerful reading. I felt the fight for dignity, respect and freedom as much as the emotional conflicts between the various characters. This aspect of the novel fascinated me. Wilson also explores, through Nicolette, the struggle for women to feel respected in what was then, and often still is, a man’s world. Her fight to become a photojournalist struck a chord with me, not because I had that same fight, but because I’ve worked in newspapers and I understand that drive to tell a story, no matter the medium.
Wilson is an undervalued literary writer with a gift for words. I’d like to see her get some more attention.
Available from good bookstores. My copy was courtesy of Transit Lounge.