AUSTRALIA, to someone who has never been, can take on a dreamlike aura. It is a place inhabited by sun-kissed, beach-going men and women.
Life seems to be sun, sea and sand. It is bliss.
Perhaps this is the reason Afsaneh Knight chose to set her second novel, The Sunshine Years, in the country.
Because, ironically, her characters are miserable. The novel's protagonist, Story, thinks to himself in the third person: "He lives in the heart of Sydney. There are women.
There is sunshine warm as a burst blister. Great food.
Great mates. Awesome wine. Life is cheap, and Story's got a fat wallet, and where the *#@ else could he be happy ..."
But Story is not happy and neither are his friends, the other thirtysomethings wandering aimlessly through their mundane, meaningless lives.
They are well-educated, they have successful careers, and social lives that involve casual sex and drinking.
They have nice flats and visit food markets.
Yet underneath the facade, the characters are broken, their behaviour at times disturbing.
The book's title suggests this is a heart-warming glance at a group of people in the throes of a midlife crisis, like an episode of Friends. It's anything but – and all the better for it.
The characters have everything in their Garden of Eden, and this lulls the reader into thinking all is well.
Knight interweaves the banal with the sinister to warn us it is not. This is a poignant indictment of 21st-century living. — The Daily Telegraph