Philip Salom, now 72, has constructed a powerful repute as a poet and novelist. Sweeney and the Bicycles is his sixth novel, and his third in 4 years.

Salom was born in the identical 12 months as Alexis Wright. He’s barely youthful than Peter Carey and Amanda Lohrey, and barely older than Gail Jones, Kim Scott, Michelle de Kretser, Tim Winton and Richard Flanagan. If the time period had not turn into derogatory, one may class all of those writers inside the “child increase” technology.

Evaluate: Sweeney and the Bicycles – Philip Salom (Transit Lounge).

It helps to situate Salom on this approach as a result of Sweeney and the Bicycles is about recollections and what occurs to them as time passes. Whereas not precisely elegiac, the novel is dependent upon a world of youthful chance that has come to an unsure finish. The principle characters are in center age, however caught in a sort of belated adolescence. Adamant they haven’t turn into their mother and father, they’re gnawed by the concept that this has left them in an odd form of purgatory.

Sweeney, the novel’s anti-hero, belongs to the custom of the picaresque. His title is taken from the incidental character who floats via a lot of T.S. Eliot’s poems. He has not too long ago been launched from jail, the place he was brutally bashed, sustaining a severe mind harm that has left him scattered and traumatised. But the trauma within the novel sits beneath a floor of social satire and cheerful insouciance. Certainly, the trauma, for varied causes, typically fails to accumulate its true gravity.

Psychotherapy and the novel

As a result of Sweeney’s harm occurred in a authorities facility, he has been given psychiatric and psychological therapy that he wouldn’t in any other case have the ability to afford. His therapeutic relationship with Dr Asha Sen turns into a central element of the novel.

Asha has been transformed to a type of psychotherapy known as EMDR (Eye Motion Desensitisation and Reprocessing). That is the primary time that I’ve seen this remedy depicted in fiction. Curiously, psychotherapy, such a staple of movie and tv, is way much less widespread in fiction. Regardless of being a speaking treatment, one thing concerning the clinic appears peculiarly proof against illustration within the framework of a novel.

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Sweeney and the Bicycles is attention-grabbing as a result of it replays, fairly immediately, the interchanges within the therapeutic second. In his therapy, Sweeney is directed in direction of his “damaging recollections” and requested to offer them a severity rating out of ten. He’s then requested to remember them intimately, whereas the physician passes her finger in entrance of his eyes to be able to simulate the patterns of eye motion skilled throughout REM sleep. The speculation is that this eye motion restores a plasticity to the psyche and permits recollections to be recoded from damaging to optimistic. After a “set” has been accomplished, Sweeney is once more requested to measure the damage of his reminiscence. He finds it has lessened.

Exterior Asha’s clinic, Sweeney lives a knockabout life, having in some unspecified time in the future graduated from social dropout to fully-fledged dropkick. He appears by no means to have held a traditional job, having gone immediately from College to a commune of artisans, who offered their handmade wares at native markets and stole their medicine from native pharmacies. It was this latter exercise that landed Sweeney in jail, a spot he was poorly outfitted to outlive.

In his post-prison life, Sweeney splits his residence between a home he has fortuitously inherited from his grandmother in Parkville and a tough rooming home in North Melbourne. The boarding home is run by the Sheriff, a former standover man, whom Salom appears to have brazenly styled on Chopper Reid. In his gruff and emotionally clumsy approach, the Sherriff takes Sweeney underneath his wing. There’s a tenderness to this relationship that comes via the light social comedy they enact. If Asha is Sweeney’s adopted mom, then the Sheriff may be very clearly his adopted father.

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Key recollections

These compensating parental figures present a fidelity of regard and an moral matrix to Sweeney, who appears to have come right into a notional maturity bereft of this stuff. The biographical strata of Sweeney’s life are laid out gently. Starting within the current day with Sweeney adjusting to life outdoors jail, we regularly see one thing of the life inside jail that culminated in his bashing. Earlier than that, we’re provided glimpses of life within the artists’ commune, which Sweeney had helped discovered, and the inexorable erosion of its beliefs.

The refusal of authority on the centre of this utopian group turns into understandable once we witness Sweeney’s recollections emerge in remedy. These take us to into Sweeney’s childhood. A domineering father and a weak alcoholic mom left Sweeney with no capability to win professional approval and maintain a viable vanity.

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The important thing reminiscence from his childhood is when his father provides him a bicycle for his eleventh birthday, solely to show round and take it away from him as a punishment for using it at evening. For Sweeney, using a bicycle gave him an beautiful, ecstatic pleasure, significantly when it was wedded to the illicit. That his pleasure wanted to be forbidden to be able to perform means that the anti-authoritarian stance derives its power from the authority it ostensibly denies.

This particularity has carried via into Sweeney’s present life, the place his principal pleasure is derived from stealing bicycles. Not simply any bicycles – they must have some factor of magnificence or charisma. Fortuitously, the hipster bikes that plague Melbourne’s inner-city go away Sweeney with no scarcity of choices.

Usually, he returns the bikes, but when he’s significantly fond of 1 he retains it at his grandmother’s home, which features as his secret retreat, the storehouse of his illicit pleasure. Certainly, when the Sherriff discovers that Sweeney has a second home, he’s damage and offended, as if Sweeney had been two-timing him.

The romance plot of the novel is initiated when Sweeney swipes a motorbike belonging to Rose, a middle-aged knowledge analyst working in town-planning and a affected person of Asha Sen. On the time, Sweeney was not himself seeing Dr Sen, however the novel isn’t wanting uncanny coincidences and by the tip all of the seemingly separate circles have coalesced.

Acutely aware of the ever present CCTV cameras of the modern metropolis, Sweeney applies make-up to his face designed to flummox facial recognition software program. He paints his face with numbers and letters, or pixelates his options with painted blotches. Because it occurs, Dr Sen’s husband is a software program engineer, whose agency specialises in facial recognition. One of many key dialectics within the novel is between a surveilling eye that may seize your face and discover you responsible, and a therapeutic eye that may see inside and discover you harmless.

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Radical self-absorption

With its lovingly rendered characters and sharp aphoristic prose, Sweeney and the Bicycles is an pleasurable novel. It strikes at a leisurely tempo; certainly, it strikes on the tempo of a bicycle.

Many of the story transpires within the register of delicate satire, significantly the sections that concentrate on the lovable losers within the rooming home. The lifetime of this assemblage of misfits resembles the tough and tumble underworld of Robert G. Barrett’s Les Norton crime novels. The one factor lacking, although, is a detective who may present an ordering sense of mission to the haphazard incidents.

One of many odd options of the novel is Sweeney’s excessive passivity. His solely decisive motion is the stealing of bicycles, which absorbs the totality of his libidinal life. It’s a little stunning that when Rose finds her stolen bicycle at Sweeney’s home, nestled amongst others he has collected, she decides that that is the person for her. Not solely that, she turns into his amanuensis, transcribing his freeform however totally illegible diaries.

What additionally stands out is the way in which that the characters appear islanded of their technology. The resentment they really feel in direction of their self-absorbed mother and father – the unhappy, emotionally crippled beings of the battle technology – appears to have been transferred immediately onto the self-absorbed technology that’s changing them, whether or not they prefer it or not. The one consultant of this youthful technology is Asha Sen’s good-for-nothing stepson, who sits in his room all day enjoying video video games and stalking girls on Tinder. Against this, the unconventional self-absorption of Sweeney is handled with an virtually countless sympathy and as a part of his appeal.

Whereas the novel espouses a sure sort of freedom, Sweeney’s life reveals a marked tendency towards incarceration or managed care – the commune, the jail, the boarding home. In actual fact, though the novel ends with Rose shifting in with Sweeney, it’s under no circumstances clear on what foundation their relationship may exist.

That Sweeney’s subjective vacuity casts a cloud over his capability to narrate in significant phrases to a different is unusual in a novel dedicated to psychotherapy. This factors to a sure limitation, for my part, within the nature of the therapy espoused within the novel. The limitation lies not a lot in its approach, however within the medical goal.

As described on this novel, the remedy makes no try to know what Sweeney needs (the construction of his need); it seeks solely to search out traumatic recollections and excise them, as if by a sort of psychic surgical procedure. As soon as freed of blame for issues that weren’t his fault, the topic is free.

However free to do what? Want is taken with no consideration, and but there is no such thing as a reckoning, within the context of his remedy, with probably the most singular factor of Sweeney – his compulsion to steal bicycles. On this respect, the remedy appears to belong to the faintly magical dimension of the novel, underpinned by a want that there’s somebody to wave a wand and make it allgood once more.