Hovering, by Rhett Davis

Winner of the 2020 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript, Hovering is the most entertaining book I’ve read for a while, but it’s macabre and disorientating too. Fun… because of the deadpan delivery of the absurdity of modern (non)communication but macabre and disorientating because it contests the complacent security of life in our cities. Hovering made me think of the plaintive refrains about wanting certainty during pandemic lockdowns.  What was it, I used to wonder, that made them not understand that certainty is no more possible in a pandemic than it is in a natural disaster or a war?  Rhett Davis shows us that the planet itself rebels against mistreatment and denial of history, and that people have no choice but to learn to adjust and adapt.  He does this in a city recognisable as Melbourne but — in an echo of the unnecessary and disorientating renaming of Narrm by John Batman* —he has renamed the city as Fraser, This is the blurb: The city was in the same place. But was it the same city?Alice stands outside her family’s 1950s red brick veneer, unsure if she should approach. It has been sixteen years, but it’s clear she is out of options.Lydia opens the door to a familiar stranger – thirty-nine, tall, bony, pale. She knows her sister immediately. But something isn’t right. Meanwhile her son, George, is upstairs, still refusing to speak, and lost in a virtual world of his own designNothing is as it was, and while the sisters’ resentments flare, it seems that the city too is agitated. People wake up to streets that have rearranged themselves, in houses that have moved to different parts of town. Tensions rise and the authorities have no answers. The internet becomes alight with conspiracy theories.As the world lurches around them, Alice’s secret will be revealed, and the ground at their feet will no longer be so firm. The nearest I’ve come to this kind of disorientating experience was in one of Melbourne’s last major rainstorms.  My daily commute was usually about 35 minutes, but five times on my usual route home I was stopped by flash flooding.  I had to stop, adjust my mental map to bypass dips in the road and valleys that I’d never thought about before, and find another way. It was much harder as it got dark.  Driving backwards and forwards in suburbs I didn’t know as floodwaters blocked my way, I began to panic about whether I would ever get home. So, how do the good folk of Fraser cope with the ad hoc rearrangement of their built environment?  Let’s turn to social media to see what’s trending… Trending articles Latest polling reveals swing to unknown party Tupperly takes flight, injuries many: watch live You can’t say ‘you’ without ‘I’, Dr Falcon Report: Australian voters see voting like gambling, think it’s all just good fun Opinion: Klaus’s outburst costs Wrexham remaining goodwill It’s official: Instant global communication not helpful Fraser real-time smash round-up: watch live Report: Immortal Labrador puppy grown in Dutch lab Football: League boss admits he doesn’t know all the rules Opinion: There are more of us than ever and none of us know what we’re doing. (p.115) Yes, I have a feeling that the author has harvested some of these from my Twitter feed… Then there are descriptions of Trending videos, which are awesome in their authenticity.  Here’s No 3: A small boy babbles nonsensically at three spaniels as if they are his friends.  He offers them coloured wooden cubes.  The dogs look at the camera with concern. (p.117) And the trending hashtags? #Nowords#CRFLMemorial#WeareallMarcomeFalcon#LeagueVSLLeagueVSLLeague#IfIHadADollar#InvisibleFootball#Fraser#RabblesLosesIt#FSR#ActualWarriorsSeasonFinale (p.117) Yes, Rhett Davis has nailed it.  As we can see, sport — which in the real life pandemic throughout lockdowns when there was no sport, nonetheless managed to consume its usual 10 minutes of news broadcasts — maintains its pre-eminence in the minds of the good folks of Fraser. Because unless what’s been rearranged is your letter-box, or your house, or your shopping centre, or your school, or your route to wherever, well, #SportRules! #Nowords is my favourite of these trending hashtags.  It is the hashtag of choice for someone who can’t think of anything to say, or doesn’t actually care, or even disagrees with the virtue-signalling — but is terrified of being left out of the conversation. Davis satirises contemporary communication throughout the novel.  There are SMS convos, and depictions of parallel realities in columns showing the contemporaneous thoughts and actions of the three main characters, Lydia, Alice and George.  There are hilarious files in the digital retrieval systems which are bugging their home because Alice is a ‘person of interest’ to the authorities. Cringe-worthy discussions in forums (accompanied by gifs) often descend into abuse.  There is a premier’s press release in weasel words, and there are reports from the Bureau of Municipal Disturban

Hovering, by Rhett Davis

Winner of the 2020 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript, Hovering is the most entertaining book I’ve read for a while, but it’s macabre and disorientating too.

Fun… because of the deadpan delivery of the absurdity of modern (non)communication but macabre and disorientating because it contests the complacent security of life in our cities.

Hovering made me think of the plaintive refrains about wanting certainty during pandemic lockdowns.  What was it, I used to wonder, that made them not understand that certainty is no more possible in a pandemic than it is in a natural disaster or a war?  Rhett Davis shows us that the planet itself rebels against mistreatment and denial of history, and that people have no choice but to learn to adjust and adapt.  He does this in a city recognisable as Melbourne but — in an echo of the unnecessary and disorientating renaming of Narrm by John Batman* —he has renamed the city as Fraser,

This is the blurb:

The city was in the same place. But was it the same city?
Alice stands outside her family’s 1950s red brick veneer, unsure if she should approach. It has been sixteen years, but it’s clear she is out of options.
Lydia opens the door to a familiar stranger – thirty-nine, tall, bony, pale. She knows her sister immediately. But something isn’t right. Meanwhile her son, George, is upstairs, still refusing to speak, and lost in a virtual world of his own design
Nothing is as it was, and while the sisters’ resentments flare, it seems that the city too is agitated. People wake up to streets that have rearranged themselves, in houses that have moved to different parts of town. Tensions rise and the authorities have no answers. The internet becomes alight with conspiracy theories.
As the world lurches around them, Alice’s secret will be revealed, and the ground at their feet will no longer be so firm.

The nearest I’ve come to this kind of disorientating experience was in one of Melbourne’s last major rainstorms.  My daily commute was usually about 35 minutes, but five times on my usual route home I was stopped by flash flooding.  I had to stop, adjust my mental map to bypass dips in the road and valleys that I’d never thought about before, and find another way. It was much harder as it got dark.  Driving backwards and forwards in suburbs I didn’t know as floodwaters blocked my way, I began to panic about whether I would ever get home.

So, how do the good folk of Fraser cope with the ad hoc rearrangement of their built environment?  Let’s turn to social media to see what’s trending…

Trending articles

  1. Latest polling reveals swing to unknown party
  2. Tupperly takes flight, injuries many: watch live
  3. You can’t say ‘you’ without ‘I’, Dr Falcon
  4. Report: Australian voters see voting like gambling, think it’s all just good fun
  5. Opinion: Klaus’s outburst costs Wrexham remaining goodwill
  6. It’s official: Instant global communication not helpful
  7. Fraser real-time smash round-up: watch live
  8. Report: Immortal Labrador puppy grown in Dutch lab
  9. Football: League boss admits he doesn’t know all the rules
  10. Opinion: There are more of us than ever and none of us know what we’re doing. (p.115)

Yes, I have a feeling that the author has harvested some of these from my Twitter feed…

Then there are descriptions of Trending videos, which are awesome in their authenticity.  Here’s No 3:

A small boy babbles nonsensically at three spaniels as if they are his friends.  He offers them coloured wooden cubes.  The dogs look at the camera with concern. (p.117)

And the trending hashtags?

#Nowords
#CRFLMemorial
#WeareallMarcomeFalcon
#LeagueVSLLeagueVSLLeague
#IfIHadADollar
#InvisibleFootball
#Fraser
#RabblesLosesIt
#FSR
#ActualWarriorsSeasonFinale (p.117)

Yes, Rhett Davis has nailed it.  As we can see, sport — which in the real life pandemic throughout lockdowns when there was no sport, nonetheless managed to consume its usual 10 minutes of news broadcasts — maintains its pre-eminence in the minds of the good folks of Fraser. Because unless what’s been rearranged is your letter-box, or your house, or your shopping centre, or your school, or your route to wherever, well, #SportRules!

#Nowords is my favourite of these trending hashtags.  It is the hashtag of choice for someone who can’t think of anything to say, or doesn’t actually care, or even disagrees with the virtue-signalling — but is terrified of being left out of the conversation.

Davis satirises contemporary communication throughout the novel.  There are SMS convos, and depictions of parallel realities in columns showing the contemporaneous thoughts and actions of the three main characters, Lydia, Alice and George.  There are hilarious files in the digital retrieval systems which are bugging their home because Alice is a ‘person of interest’ to the authorities. Cringe-worthy discussions in forums (accompanied by gifs) often descend into abuse.  There is a premier’s press release in weasel words, and there are reports from the Bureau of Municipal Disturbances. (If you don’t report your missing house within the specified timeframe, too bad for you).  Unsurprisingly, characters are doomscrolling, and walking away.

In a cunning inversion of the adolescent obsession with screens, George’s mother retreats into game-playing, 8-10 hours at a time and not bothering to eat.  This fantasy world is one where she has agency to create a natural environment.  Her son George hacks into the game, gives her a digital image of a tree they both love in real life, but she doesn’t respond.

George, I should add, is an elective mute.  Ironically, he ensures that when he communicates, people have to pay attention.  They have to get out their phones and read his texts.  He is actually communicating more effectively than anyone else in the novel. He’s also making a lot of money.  While struggling with doing a school project about his future in 15 years, he’s selling digital trees and licensing them to content creators such as game developers, design companies and architectural firms.

And Alice?  What has she been up to overseas that has attracted the attention of the authorities.  Well, #NoSpoilers, she is a radical, but *chuckle* that’s all I’ll say.

My advice is: drop everything else and read Hovering.  It’s a cert for my Best Books of the Year, and it ought to be on shortlists everywhere.

The Kulin Nation, source: Nick Carson at English Wikipedia

*For international readers: The city said to have been founded by John Batman and John Pascoe Fawkner is now called Melbourne but the traditional lands of the Kulin nation were known for time out of mind as Naarm.  The Kulin Nation is a collective of five Aboriginal nations: Wurundjeri, Boonwurrung, Wathaurrung, Daungwurrung and Dja DjaWrung.  ANZ LitLovers comes to you from Boonwurrung country.

Author: Rhett Davis
Title: Hovering
Publisher: Hachette, 2022
Cover design: Design by Committee, painting by Kenton Nelson
ISBN: 9780733645624, pbk., 289 pages
Source: Personal library, purchased from Readings $32.99