Nigel Featherstone – My Heart is a Little Wild Thing

Ultimo Press, Australia, 2022
Cover design by Ella Egidy

There is much to say about this piece of fine literary fiction by Nigel Featherstone. Let me start, however, with place.

Barbie spoke to Nigel Featherstone about My Heart is a Little Wild Thing

Several landscapes hold this story of Patrick, his loves, his family and his search for self – the predominant one is the Monaro, that country south of Canberra towards the mountains and the sea. The depiction of it is intense, beautiful, vivid, almost psalm-like.

When Patrick returns to Jimenbuen in this mountain country, the place where his family regularly holidayed during his childhood, he goes in search of that lost illusion of happiness, innocence. He finds his way to the enigmatic Lewis, the man he falls in love with, through trees and birds and an almost magical sighting of a quoll.

This sighting, the deep desire to see the elusive quoll again and the almost inevitable meeting with Lewis at Jimenbuen have the feel of a folk tale, in which a magical creature leads the hero to adventure and the grail.

We also visit other places in Patrick’s life, places deeply tinged with memory – his home in the Southern Highlands hamlet of Bundanoon, where he lives a few houses down from his mother, for whom he is the life-long and sole carer; Palm Beach where he regularly goes seeking sexual encounters; the Sydney associated with his university friendships; Essex where he finally goes in search of freedom. They’re plot related but drawn with an intensity that speaks of the prime importance of place to this writer and this novel.

The metaphor which underpins the entire novel is the story of The Snow Goose, with its themes of the hidden, the shameful, the ugly, the restorative power of love, the freedom of birds, the healing of place, the healing of self.

The leitmotif of music is also highly significant. Lewis is a musician, a composer of some renown it seems; Patrick is a lover of music. The music Lewis eventually produces arising from Jimenbuen is briefly a way back but then a way to recognise the need to leave a relationship that has served its purpose and run its course.

Of course, this is a love story too. There is love of many colours  – familial, filial, maternal, sexual, romantic, love for people and places, for nature, music and words. Within that theme the book is a masterful study in pathos, but it rewards the reader too with flashes of sardonic humour, glimpses into another Patrick lying beneath the melancholic and frozen self.

The author’s fluid, stream of consciousness narrative style is an immediate hook. There is not a breath of hesitation as the reader plunges into Patrick’s story, into his mind and his world. We feel for him, we wish him well, we wish he’d take something for himself.  And we exult when he does.

This is a beautifully constructed and written book; it cleverly tangles the reader in every aspect of its telling. It moves us with its compassion, its vivid depictions of nature and its complex explorations of the human condition. Here is a truly astute writer utterly in control of his art.

Thank you to Ultimo Press for my review copy and to Nigel for a rich conversation about place, love. music and this work.