Brian Castro dramatises and even valorises forms of literary and artistic failure throughout his fiction, but his body of work is a raging success by mortal standards. None of his novels disappoint on close inspection. Double-Wolf and Shanghai Dancing are endlessly rewarding; The Swan Book is gorgeously written and deeply moving; After China is conceptually neat, seductive and stylish. Others, such as Drift and The Bath Fugues, appeal to select readers but are dazzlingly rich and structurally brilliant. Even Stepper—which Castro sees as a relatively conventional spy novel—is a satisfying and affecting Nabokovian game. Every novel is stamped by a talent that induces envy as much as gratitude. You want to know what it feels like to write that way.
Castro has won almost as many significant literary awards as he has published novels, and his fiction has received acclaim and close scholarly attention throughout. He is the rare kind of author who cannot write a bad book. His novels have been translated into several languages and admired by pockets of international readers, yet they haven’t gained much traction beyond his home country compared with other celebrated Australian writers of the same vintage. Notable critics and reviewers such as Bernadette Brennan, Helen Daniel, Katharine England, James Ley, Peter Pierce and Andrew Riemer have taken Castro’s fiction seriously and responded to his work with intelligent enthusiasm over the decades, but local institutional rewards have not translated to popular appreciation even by the modest standards of literary fiction. His work also suffers from a comparative lack of availability; in Adelaide—which has been Castro’s home for well over a decade—you can walk into major inner-city bookstores and search the shelves for a Castro novel without any success. Throughout his career, the tokens of literary achievement have been balanced against signs of public indifference.
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