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My Heart is a Little Wild Thing - Nigel Featherstone

Shortly after I first met the man who would become my partner for many years, he invited me to spend a long weekend in the Monaro region, south of Cooma in Country New South Wales. He borrowed a cottage from a friend, and we spent three days there in the hot dry Australian bush.

We’d only just met and were very shy around one another. It was the weekend of the Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria, and the heat was deafening. We tried to cool off in a nearby creek, but snakes were a problem. Without air conditioning, we spent the nights lying naked side by side, sweating, hardly touching. I remember it as a moment of discovery – not yet a relationship - both wild and tender. In a remote bushland environment, artifice melts away to reveal who you really are.

It all came flooding back reading Nigel Featherstone’s profoundly moving My Heart is a Little Wild Thing.

A mild-mannered middle-aged man has spent most of his adult life looking after his ailing mother. In a rare moment of rebellion, the good son leaves her behind for an impromptu visit to the Monaro homestead where they holidayed when he was young. A chance encounter with another man leads to a fortnight of unexpected intimacy and sexual awakening that may resonate for years to come.

This novel is a familiar story of shame and repression, infused with a fresh and unique perspective on the gay coming-of-age tale. It is told with thoughtfulness and honesty. It rings true. I had to shut the book a few times, somewhat shocked by how much I could relate. Informed by a wonderful sense of place, the writing is simple but luminous. Threaded with repetitions and variations, it is like music created with loop pedals, meaning created in subtle iterative layers building to a powerful wall of sound.

Happiness is fleeting. The wisdom here is in recognising that it’s also a destination we don’t naturally choose for ourselves. It requires a course correction. For many there exists a time when something in us froze into existence, a time – or is it a place? – we wish we could return to, so as to make different choices. This is the poignant story of such a voyage, and the slow, hopeful thaw it made possible.

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