I follow Nathan’s blog A Biographer in Perth and thought I would check out his maiden novel of a few years ago now, The Fur. It must be in stock in a warehouse somewhere as my no. 1 favourite bookseller, Crow Books (Victoria Park, WA), had no trouble getting it in for me.
Interestingly it doesn’t have a copyright page but I see in Wikipedia “The Fur … is a science fiction novel by author Nathan Hobby, published in 2004 after winning the 2002 T. A. G. Hungerford Award for unpublished new writers.” I would further categorise it as for Young Adults, probably 16 and over.
I assume Nathan is from ‘down south’, as the setting for the novel is first Collie, in the jarrah forested hills south of Perth, then the provincial city of Bunbury on the coast, and finally Murdoch Uni in Perth’s southern suburbs.
The ‘fur’ of the title is a fungus which grows on any surface, plant, animal or structure, and which has led to WA being quarantined from the rest of Australia. A quarantine enforced by a razor wire fence at the border, and by the occupying army of the ‘Wealth’ – the Commonwealth government. Only Perth’s posh western suburbs, Dalkeith, Peppy Grove, Mosman etc, are apparently immune, and they have their own enclave on the north shore of the Swan incorporating UWA.
Basically, all SF trappings aside, this is a novel of one awkward boy’s attempt to find meaning in life (and understanding in girls!). Its setting invites comparison, of course, with John Marsden’s Tomorrow, When the War Began (1993), but Marsden’s book/series has both a broader cast and a greater emphasis on action. Nathan’s main interest is to develop the character of his protagonist Michael from year 11 in Collie, through year 12 in Bunbury and first year uni at Murdoch.
In Collie, Michael lives with his mother, father – the local preacher, and younger brother. The atmosphere is brooding, the great jarrahs loom over the town, many of the shops and houses have been abandoned and looted and the black fur grows everywhere, on tree trunks, buildings and even on the paths and the grass. Michael, like awkward boys everywhere, is keen on the wrong girls, the good looking, confident girls who go out with football players. When skinny, intelligent Rebecca joins his class and attempts to engage him, he pushes her away. Only when he moves to Bunbury does he begin to value her friendship but there too there is a blonde to dazzle him.
He and Rebecca agree to work towards escaping to the East, to Melbourne (Perth people focus on Melbourne far more than they do on Sydney. Weird). At uni they spend more time together, go on rallies and so on, but Michael’s theology studies get in the way. And his awkwardness. And the novel ends with Rebecca gone, presumably in Melbourne and Michael walking home to Bunbury for xmas.
Michael reads a lot, the bible, Philip K Dick, Catcher in the Rye and we are encouraged to draw parallels with John Fowles’, The Collector which I haven’t read but which apparently involves an awkward man kidnapping a woman and unsuccessfully persuading her to fall in love with him. I did get the reference to Friends! Michael is introduced to Emily, a party girl, “‘Oh, hi!’ she said, How you doing?’”. He almost takes the hint, but they are interrupted.
My oldest grandchildren are still a bit young but I have a niece whose children are the right age and I think I will try it out on them.
Nathan Hobby, The Fur, Fremantle Arts Centre Press, Fremantle, 2004