by Karen Collum
Nemesis Train is a complex, multi-faceted and understated novel by Australian author, Nathan Brown. It enters the territory of literary fiction, yet still retains an authenticity that would appeal en masse. Quirky, left of centre and at times almost random, Nemesis Train teeters on the edge; there were moments when I was close to abandoning my journey with the wanderer, the clerk, the veteran, the musician, the child, the driver and Jed. The intricacy of the characters and their seemingly unrelatedness took me into the realms of frustration; the descriptions of the mundane left me puzzled and at times, unfulfilled; but it also kept me reading to the very end.
The literary devices Nathan employs are well suited to the atmosphere he creates. A variation in point of view is refreshing. The intimate and relaxed first person interludes provided a sense of relief and allowed my mind to rest momentarily before I was immersed once again into the detached, unemotional, observer third-person mode he does so well. There are some playful word choices—gems hidden among the ordinariness of the lives portrayed—that are still resounding with me long after the last page was read. The sparsely placed repetitive phrases helped me maintain a sense of continuity, even though I had no idea where I was headed for the vast majority of the book.
Perhaps one of the most impressive aspects of Nemesis Train is Nathan’s dignified treatment of the major theme—that of wanting to make a difference in the world. There are some humorous moments in Jed’s noble quest to change the world, and we are reminded that not everyone needs or indeed wants to be rescued. There is no preaching, no induction of guilt. And it is clear that there is no magic bullet.
The crowning glory of Nemesis Train is the ending. After ploughing through the quagmire of intricate details of unexceptional characters, the ending for me was a masterpiece. It was truly unexpected. That in itself is remarkable. True to form, Nathan manages to weave the subtle threads into a recognisable portrait that is profound because of its simplicity. There are no bells and whistles, no neat bow tied around an awkward situation. Just an acknowledgement of the way life is.
Nemesis Train is not an easy read. I didn’t totally abandon myself or throw caution to the wind. It was, however, a refreshing and intelligent one that required commitment, intentional thought and a dose of perseverance. But my effort was more than rewarded. It really is worth a read—and for me, even a re-read.
For more, see a more personal review at The Unutterable Phrase.