Author: Patrick Holland
Publisher: University of Queensland Press
Patrick Holland’s The Long Road of the Junkmailer does exactly what it says it will: it sends its reader to sort through junk and takes an awful long time to do so.
By ‘junk’ I don’t mean ‘worthless’. It’s more the feel of the novel. The fragments of the story come together like sifting through piles of other people’s belongings at a garage sale, or a glory box of Nan’s old things. It is erratic, non-circular but strangely nostalgic.
The novel follows Erskine, the Junkmailer of the novels namesake as he haphazardly delivers his mail through Brisbane. On the way he picks up other strange characters whom Holland is deftly opposed to calling by name (arduously referring to them as “the girl who has forgotten to cry” and “the foxhunter”). Somewhere in this curious pile of odd-ends and some almost-magic realism the junkmailer finds himself drifting in and out of a storyline.
It’s not here that the novel finds its strength. Holland’s greatest talent is the creation of place, and he manages to delve the audience into this vagrant wilderness: the other-worldly Brisbane of someone on the outskirts. It’s delightfully dark and antiquated here as the junkmailer finds himself lost in its history: the display homes of the 1950s, the consumerist 1980s, and the ageless outback of anytime in between. All the layers crash upon each other, in a fragmented collage of what Brisbane looks like the day before the apocalypse.
It is exactly this that is the problem. The audience is only looking at this world: gazing from the sidelines, much like the vagrants in the novel. Holland’s prose is too full of tricks, and too self-aware to allow the audience to really feel the place that is so meticulously described to them. The author wraps up his story without his reader and when he leaves, all they take from the journey are fragments of meaning: his baggage, his junk.