Author: James McKenzie Watson
Reviewer: Kellie Nash
Audience: Mature readers
James McKenzie Watson’s beautiful dedication to his mother at the start of this novel and the paragraph to her which ends the acknowledgements helps contain the brutality of this gothic novel within the pages of the book.
The story is told by Parker, a twenty-four-year-old music student living in Sydney. Parker travels home to the far west of New South Wales with his infant son to camp with friends. He has been troubled by a violent incident in which he was involved as a boy that left him believing something is wrong with his brain. The story switches between the present and the past as Parker recounts episodes in his young life that help inform the reader about events happening in the novel’s present. Parker and his mother are cruel to each other, while Parker’s father works long hours on their farm to avoid interaction with him.
The characters are well written, and the plot is compelling, keeping the reader turning the pages even when you know it is better not to. The writing of Parker’s love for his son is exquisite. The country in the story will be familiar to many readers, with James drawing on his own memories of growing up and being educated in rural and remote New South Wales.
This is a book that shines a spotlight on the devastating reality for many people in need of mental health care living in a small town in remote Australia. While James has drawn on his own experience, this novel is not autobiographical.
Denizen is confronting. You would have to read this book before putting it on the shelf in your library. It is suitable only for your most mature readers. I would certainly talk with any potential readers to help them make an informed choice about what they were taking home with them. The writing is so good, an alternative to student borrowing would be to use extracts for students to study different writing styles.