Christopher Conti, ‘Proofs’ in Westerly


A Year of Experimentation: Australian Fiction Moving On

Nigel Krauth Reviews Chris Conti’s Proofs in Westerly 58:1 (June 2013): 95-96

It is regrettable also that mainstream Australian publishers neglected the short story in the last two decades for much the same reasons they dumped the novella. Short stories are small. Collections are fragmented, and the thinking was that readers wanted big sleek reads, not itsy-bitsy chopped-up ones. But all that changed last year too, it seems. I have on my desk nine short story collections, most of them by strongly emerging writers. What happens to the short story in Australia has long been a barometer for the health of fiction writing in the nation. The barometer is rising.  [...]

            Chris Conti’s Proofs was the most experimental work published in the year. It is a collection of 103 micro-biographies. Each is a bite from history or the news; a Borgesian miniature of a whole novel; a satiric look behind the scenes at the desperateness of our existences. The 103 jig-saw pieces make up a cryptic social history of Australia, and also a self-portrait of the writer—or the reader—take your pick. With metamorphoses, ironies, and surreal logics, the off-centre morals of these marvellous mini-fables see life reflected in wacky side-show mirrors. A hotel morphs into a prison, an ape goes to trial for murder, real people (Harold Holt and Shackleton, Gerard de Nerval and Stan McCabe, Jorn Utzon and Miss Universe) are implicated. It’s a history book of counterfacts, a newspaper reporting a hidden world. Everything is ridiculous, and true. And notably there are several pieces about writers who succumb to the weight of the writing they have produced, which terrifies and drowns them. Here is one of the puzzle pieces:

task

By all accounts, the theologian from Heidelberg West who wrote the Encyclopedia Britannica entry on charity is an outrageous egotist, vain, mad, impossible, which is hardly surprising when one considers that in order to complete the task the theologian had to become a writer.  

 

Everyone except writers should read Conti’s book.

Nigel Krauth

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