Short reviews of fiction from Australia and overseas: Pick of the Week
Dominique Wilson’s delicately wrought novel begins as an intergenerational family saga and ends as a geopolitical thriller in the mould of Graham Greene. Louis, a French settler in Algeria at the end of the 19th century, slowly builds a home for himself and develops a lifelong friendship with a Berber boy, Imez. Six decades later, Algeria has thrown off the colonial yoke. Louis’ granddaughter Nicolette – an Australian immersed in a new career as an international photojournalist, after tragedy destroys her young family – returns to the Algeria of her childhood. Much has changed. When the country’s popular president dies, terrorist strife erupts, with Nicolette caught in the crossfire. That Devil’s Madness is skilled and suspenseful fiction, its meticulous research worn lightly, its dual narratives handled with dexterity. [The Age – Entertainment] [Sydney Morning Herald – Entertainment] [The Canberra Times] [The Examiner]
Books You Won’t Be Able To Put Down In 2016: That Devil’s Madness
by Barry Dick
30 January 2016
Nicolette de Dercou has experienced an almost overwhelming personal tragedy but when she returns to the country of her birth, Algiers, she encounters tragedies on a daily basis. She is the grand-daughter of a Frenchman who settled in Algiers in 1896 under a government-sponsored program to farm land. Algiers is a dramatic and unforgiving setting for this intriguing second novel from this Adelaide-based writer, born in Algiers to French parents. The tale is spread across a century and binds families from various religious and ethnic backgrounds.
As a photojournalist for a Melbourne newspaper, Nicolette goes to Algiers to cover the illness and death of the president. She tries to follow in her grandfather’s footsteps and rekindle childhood friendships, only to find herself caught up in a brutal civil war that tests those friendships. She falls in with experienced, if slightly shady war correspondents who look out for her, until she gets in the way. The bombings and the killings and photographs are graphically described, but in light of ISIS atrocities they are alarmingly relevant. The conclusion is not unexpected, but manages to shock. Wilson knows her setting and build characters delightfully. Verdict: memorable
Book review: That Devil’s Madness
Lou Heinrich, InDaily
Wednesday March 23, 2016
Adelaide author Dominique Wilson interweaves past and present in her story of war zones, family and the battles of the heart.
Can we outrun the past? Is it possible to escape anguish? In That Devil’s Madness, a family attempts to be freed from the landscape of their suffering, only to find that sorrow lives within.
Sablières, a village near Lyon, becomes a desolate place for Marius when he buries his wife Pauline in 1896. Compelled by the promise of a government-granted plot of land, he leaves behind three sons and travels to Algiers with his youngest, Louis.[read more=”Read more” less=”Read less”]
They travel over land and sea and are met with sandstorms, thieves and, when they arrive, hard ground. But with the help of a local Berber family, Marius and Louis make their life anew.
Eighty years later, Louis’s granddaughter Nicolette clings to a doomed relationship. After growing up in the war zone of Algiers, her family arrived in Australia when she was 10. When we meet her, she is escaping Adelaide for a rural shack, desperate to leave behind a pattern of addiction. Her isolation leads to a family tragedy.
The story then skips a few years to Nicolette as a cadet photo-journalist at The Herald in Melbourne. She is one of few women on the team, patronised and dismissed by senior male staff. This, combined with an urge to rediscover her childhood in Algieria, lead to her taking an assignment to cover the death of that country’s president. The settings, as she travels through Marseilles and Algiers, are vast and exotic, making for a colourful reading landscape.
Wilson paints vibrant scenes, placing protagonists in the right place at the right time, allowing the personal witnessing of historical events. Death propels the characters to movement; by leaving the site of loss, Nicolette, Marius and Louis intend to escape the landscape of their suffering, certain of a brighter horizon.
“Was it really that easy,” Nicolette muses, “just pack up and go, and all your problems will stay behind?”
That Devil’s Madness has similar themes to 2014 historical novel The Secret Son, by Jenny Ackland, interweaving the dual histories of Australia and a Middle Eastern country. Like The Secret Son, That Devil’s Madness sweeps through the 20th century, illustrating the war that destroyed millions of lives, but also forged bonds between individuals. Perhaps this repetition of themes indicates the widespread acknowledgement of Australia’s multicultural foundation.
In That Devil’s Madness, Wilson meditates on the idea of escaping horror, and the psychic location of pain. How are we released from suffering – is it in the leaving of sites of misery, or the returning?[/read]
That Devil’s Madness by Dominique Wilson
February 18, 2016 • by samstillreading
In brief: Nicolette’s grandfather and great-grandfather left France for Algeria for a better life. Many years later, the family left for Australia for the same reasons. Nicolette returns as a photojournalist to cover President Boumedienne’s last days, but the Algeria she knows has gone. She won’t accept the differences without a struggle.
The good: Very readable and incredibly interesting.
The not-so-good: The ending! Didn’t see that coming!
Why I chose it: Thank you to Transit Lounge for the copy.
Publisher: Transit Lounge
Setting: Australia, France and Algeria
My rating: 9 out of 10
Confession time: [read more=”Read more” less=”Read less”]I know very little about Algeria, besides some bits on TV and where to find it on a map. I like to learn more about places by reading (particularly fiction) so That Devil’s Madness intrigued me. I wasn’t expecting an incredibly good story that had me on the edge of my seat reading into the night. The story combines powerful emotion with history, loyalty and reflection on the past.
Initially the story begins in two separate narratives, linked by family. Louis is a boy leaving poverty in France for the wide expanses of Algeria with his father in 1896. Algeria is a whole new world with space, sand and opportunity. Louis and his father Marius set about building a farm and livelihood far away from the capital of Algiers. They become friends with the Berbers, a friendship that will last for generations until it is brutally severed in the unrest post World War II. It’s a fascinating story, filled with detail and politics that only become more complex as time goes on.
The second narrative opens in Australia in the late 1960s as Nicolette moves to the country with her husband and child. What happens next is brutal and shocking. Later, we meet her again as an emerging photojournalist, wanting to cover the illness of President Boumedienne in Algeria. Determined to do it, Nicolette takes her holiday leave and meets up with Steven, a friend of a colleague and experienced journalist. He’s there to stop Nicolette from making rookie mistakes and believing Algeria is the same place that she left as a child…but both of them are more than what they appear.
Eventually, the two narratives come together. I was sad to leave Louis’ story but Nicolette’s thread linked the missing pieces and explained why things had become what they did. The two narratives are expertly interwoven, Wilson has the knack of knowing at the right moment when to switch and when to offer a titbit from the past that explains why the modern characters are acting the way they do. As for the ending, it was shocking and unexpected to me but I really admire Wilson for doing what she did. That kind of explosive ending takes guts and resulted in the story packing an even greater punch in my memory. (While I say it was unexpected, it did fit in perfectly with how the characters were portrayed throughout the book. It fit in with their motives and added to the allure of Algeria as a place of where nothing is as it seems).
That Devil’s Madness is a captivating story that engaged me fully – the characters were intriguing and the story of Algeria fascinated me in a way that no history book does. It’s well written and definitely worth a read. I know literary fiction can sometimes be tainted with the ‘dull’ tag but this novel defies the stereotypes and combines skilled writing with a fast paced storyline that also reflects on history, religion, freedom and duty.[/read]
Dominique Wilson’s first novel The Yellow Papers was an outstanding read, and the same can be said of That Devil’s Madness. Her writing is finely crafted, her prose poetic and subtle, and a joy to read.
That Devil’s Madness takes readers from Australia to Algeria, following the dual and interconnected stories of Nicolette, an Australian photojournalist in the 1970s, and her predecessors, who moved to Africa’s north in search of a better life in 1896. Through Louis (and his father’s viewpoints) readers discover the challenges facing settlers to the area, not the least the clash of cultures between the tribes and settlers. Louis, following the footsteps of his father, befriends a Berber boy, and despite their differences, they become like brothers. But is there a tipping point for friendship? What happens when politics get in the way? [read more=”Read more” less=”Read less”]
Years later, Nicolette returns to her childhood home; her official brief is to cover the illness and eventual death of Algerian President Boumedienne, but she has her own agenda – to find her childhood friends and reconnect with them. She’s never forgotten those carefree days, and despite the highly tense political situation and danger that flares unexpectedly, wants to restore the bonds her grandfather once built. She’s shocked to find that the rules have changed. What once was, is no more. But is she looking at the past with rose-coloured glasses, with childish idealism? Or did she just faze out what she didn’t want to see back then?
That Devil’s Madness simmers with emotional tension from start to finish, and paints a multi-layered portrait of conflict: idealism versus duty, friendship versus loyalty, war versus peace, tradition versus progression, male roles versus female roles. Although it’s set in between 1896 to the 1970s, it’s startlingly relevant to modern readers – these conflicts exist every day, all over the world. Wilson explores conflict in all its fragility, contrariness, power and uncertainty, in a manner that holds no punches, but saves the biggest for the end.
The specific nature of the Algerian conflict was new to me; it’s powerful reading. I felt the fight for dignity, respect and freedom as much as the emotional conflicts between the various characters. This aspect of the novel fascinated me. Wilson also explores, through Nicolette, the struggle for women to feel respected in what was then, and often still is, a man’s world. Her fight to become a photojournalist struck a chord with me, not because I had that same fight, but because I’ve worked in newspapers and I understand that drive to tell a story, no matter the medium.
Wilson is an undervalued literary writer with a gift for words. I’d like to see her get some more attention.
Available from good bookstores. My copy was courtesy of Transit Lounge.[/read]
Book Review – That Devil’s Madness by Dominique Wilson
Posted 21 January 2016 by Jo
Having admired the moving storyline in Dominique Wilson’s 2014 novel The Yellow Papers, I was looking forward to seeing what weighty subject matter she would tackle next. That Devil’s Madness, her venture into the tumultuous history of her birth place Algeria, surpassed my expectations.
This is a story that is both intimate and epic. It is a story about emotional scar tissue – its creation and the devastating effects it can have on generations that follow. Through the plight of individuals Wilson highlights the unfathomable harm and deprivation we humans inflict upon one another. [read more=”Read more” less=”Read less”]
In addition to the uncompromising storyline, what really stood out for me in That Devil’s Madness is Wilson’s maturing talent as a novelist.
On reflection, just how complex the intertwining and reflective narrative structure is and how skilfully it has been employed is a thing to be admired.
And Wilson’s prose… she has evoked something special in her character development and depiction of place and mood that is hard to describe. The scenes and interactions felt so anchored in reality, the emotions raw and the fear palpable, as though I were watching a documentary rather than reading a work of fiction.
Combine this character presence with the brutality of the events depicted and the result is heart wrenching.
That Devil’s Madness is a powerful and compelling novel from a very talented Australian author. I sincerely hope it garners the audience and acclaim it deserves. [ Booklover Book Reviews ] [/read]
That Devil’s Madness by Dominique Wilson
Posted by Lisa Hill: Jan 17, 2016
That Devil’s Madness is the second novel of Dominique Wilson, who wrote The Yellow Papers, a book I really liked. (See my review). This book is even better, signalling to me that Dominique Wilson is an author to follow.
It’s a fascinating novel, set mostly in North African Algeria, formerly a French colony until its post-war independence. It begins in 1896 when Marius de Dercou from Sablières in France takes up the opportunity to acquire land in the colony, taking his son Louis with him. There, starting with almost nothing, he makes a successful new life for himself, and significantly, Louis develops a strong friendship with a local Tuareg boy called Imez.
Awareness of and respect for the dispossessed indigenous people is a strong theme in the novel. En route to his destination Marius is given plenty of advice about how to get started by the French captain of his escort and by Bertin, the local military administrator of Aïn Azel. [read more=”Read more” less=”Read less”]
Their knowledge of the relative merits of the local Arabs, Turks and Berbers are marked by complacent cultural assumptions and an inherent sense of European superiority. Occasionally the author is a little heavy-handed, as when in an unlikely exchange Bertin recounts an anecdote about his daughter Therese objecting to the custom of paying Arab labourers in kind rather than with money, but the captain’s explanations have a more authentic tone:
‘Now the Jews, you don’t have to worry about them,’ the captain explained. ‘We had them all become naturalised as French some time ago, and they’re no trouble. It’s the Muslims you have to be careful of. We tried to get them naturalised, but they refused. Wouldn’t give up their religion and become Christians.’
‘Does becoming naturalised make you a Christian? Did the Jews become Christians?’
‘No, no! No need for them to do that. We just made it a condition for the Muslims, but they refused…’ The captain shook his head, perplexed as to why one would refuse such an opportunity. ‘You’ll find them a strange lot, I think.’
This captain then goes on to explain that there are various Berber tribes, but it’s difficult to tell them apart (except for the Tuaregs who wear blue and whose men, not women, cover their faces), but that they’re all the same with their claim that
they own the land the settlers are trying to cultivate. Of course they don’t own it at all. They never stay in one place, so how could they own it? (p. 59)
Parallel with the story of Louis, his eventual marriage and his reluctant departure from Algeria because of the war of independence, is the compelling story of his grand-daughter Nicolette. Nicolette grows up in Melbourne with few memories of her birthplace, and in the 1970s has a painful relationship with a Vietnam vet who struggles to overcome what is obviously PTSD. A tragedy takes place which is a catalyst for Nicolette to take up a career as a photo-journalist, leading her to Algeria in 1978 to cover the impending death of Algeria’s first president Boumedienne, an event which is expected to provoke a power vacuum and factional conflict.
The two strands of the novel come together in a nail-biting conclusion. Nicolette finds herself struggling to find her identity in what was then a man’s world of journalism, but she also has to confront the reality that she cannot count on old loyalties. Whatever her friendships were in the past, she was one of the pieds-noirs (black shoes, meaning a French colonialist) and those involved in the current conflict have suffered too much under French repression to owe her anything. Her old friend Jamilah is scornful even that Nicolette in far away Australia has been insulated from the troubles of her homeland, and forces a bewildered Nicolette to face up to some home truths. But Jamilah’s harshness is the least of what Nicolette eventually confronts. This theme of friendship in conflict with ideology, and the way that war will test long-held bonds of affection was a feature of The Yellow Papers too.
Characterisation is a strength of this novel, and Nicolette’s character is particularly well drawn, showing as it does her growth from a young woman preoccupied by domestic grief to awareness that in other places around the world, life is more extreme. In Melbourne she finds that
… over time she was able to accept that she’d always have this feeling of loss deep inside her, this part of her missing forever. It was just a part of who she was now, and it always would be, and she knew now that she could live with that, no matter how hard it was. (p.73)
But when she witnesses atrocities in Algeria, she comes to understand that the fight for freedom can change a person irrevocably in a different way. Confronted by bodies that she must photograph if she wants to be taken seriously as a photo-journalist, she realises that hatreds make survivors deny the humanity of their opponents, and that ethical choices are hard to make. She learns the hard way that others will exploit naïveté and that trust is a luxury soon lost. Louis, her grandfather, who after a lifetime in Aïn Azel thinks of himself not as French anymore, but as Algerian, is equally conflicted:
Louis shook his head. Who knew what was right or wrong anymore? Since All Saints’ Day that November 1st three years ago, when the Front de Liberation National – or the FLN, as they were more commonly known – declared war on the French through simultaneous attacks on buildings, police stations and even communication facilities, the whole country had disintegrated into an arena of atrocities and counter-atrocities, where both the French and the Algerians sacrificed their youths and their hopes. (p.267)
The settings are superb. Early in the book Marius and Louis are caught in a sandstorm, and the reader can almost taste sand in the mouth.
The wind howled and the air was pregnant with sand and dust. Louis clung to his father, holding the edge of the blanket as close to his body as possible, trying to prevent the grit-laden wind from entering his mouth and nostrils and turning his eyelids into sandpaper. The air became hotter still. For an eternity he was only aware of the wind screeching, attacking. The grit that stung every bit of exposed flesh like minute angry gnats. He thought he heard the mule scream. In this demonic nightmare of raging winds Louis fought to breathe, not daring to open his mouth, his eyes, sure he would die. On and on and on the wind sandblasted his skin in spite of the blanket and Louis felt panic struggle to overtake him but for the reassuring arm of his father holding him close. (p. 76)
I can’t do better than to quote Peter Goldsworthy from the blurb at the back of the book when he says that That Devil’s Madness is
A kind of Quiet American set in Algiers, a unique densely crafted novel in which the various strands of story-DNA – part multi-generational family saga, part Greene-land war zone, part Camus-like moral maze – entwine with the DNA of its characters – pieds noirs, Berbers, Australians – in a formal, satisfying helix.
That Devil’s Madness is a compelling narrative with an uncompromising conclusion. Despite some irritating proof-reading errors, it’s destined to be one of my best books of 2016. [ANZLitLovers] [/read]
That Devil’s Madness by Dominique Wilson – a timely read
by Elizabeth Lhuede: January 14, 2016
Wow! What a timely read.
The structure of That Devil’s Madness by Dominique Wilson is almost a double helix, seeming parallel narratives of France and Algeria from the late 19th century onwards, and Australia and Algeria in the 1960s. It follows the fates of four generations of French-Algerian-Australian immigrants and Algerian Berbers, narratives which come together in a thriller-like denouement.
The main point of view character is a novice photo-journalist, Nicolette de Dercou, who as a child immigrated to Australia from Algeria with her mother and grandfather, and who returns there to re-connect with childhood friends and cover the news of the president’s imminent death. Nicolette gets caught up in turbulent events as Berbers fight for liberation from the oppression they have suffered since Algeria’s independence from France after World War Two, a historical struggle illuminated by the other narrative which follows Nicolette’s great-grandfather from France to Algeria and her grandfather from Algeria to Australia. [read more=”Read more” less=”Read less”]
This story interests me on numerous levels. It illuminates the complexity of post-colonialism and Christian-Muslim relations in North Africa; it gives a historical context for present-day political unrest, dissatisfaction with injustice and the root causes of terrorism; and it acts as a reminder for Australian readers of the tentativeness of our claims to sovereignty over Indigenous lands, and the historical and cultural blindness that attends our attitudes to “boat people”.
The novel also highlights the technical difficulty of wielding two disparate narratives. The risk is that the reader might temporarily lose interest at the point of changeover – not for lack of engagement, but because of their investment with the narrative thread already underway. Wilson manages to hold the reader’s attention in both stories until they come together in a powerful ending: no mean feat! [ Devotedly Eclectic ] [/read]
That Devil’s Madness by Dominique Wilson (Goodreads Author)
The art of good historical fiction is in the adeptness of which the author sneaks in the history lesson while the reader is mesmerized by the tale. Wilson does this beautifully. The French occupation of Algeria and the subsequent struggle for independence was something I knew nothing about which is one reason I probably would not have chosen to read this book, if not for the fact that I love the author’s previous work, The Yellow Pages, and I was given this book as a gift.
That Devil’s Madness alternates between two time periods but the story is seamless. In classic Wilson style, she sprints through the early history—but for those impatient readers I say don’t despair—the book quickly latches onto the main character’s story. Nicolette’s relationships are brought to fruition and as she finds herself searching for her past the story takes a nail-biting, edge-of-your-seat, turn—until you flip the last page and think: academy-award movie script? [read more=”Read more” less=”Read less”]
But it’s not just a spellbinding story. Between subtle comments on religion such as, “More out of long forgotten habit than faith, [she] dipped two fingers in the holy water of the font,” and fascinating descriptions of customs and traditions, Wilson weaves a tale of friendship, betrayal, love and atrocity. My absolute favorite line—though there are many to choose from: “Independence isn’t the same as freedom . . .” My only complaint is that I’ve finished the book and now have to wait, who knows how long, for the next Wilson saga. [ Goodreads ] [/read] MustRead #Algeria #histfic #histnovel