The Conversation: a new novel by David Brooks

1 November 2012

The Conversation, a new novel by David Brooks

It took Associate Professor David Brooks, lecturer in Australian Literature, seven years to write a novel that takes place over just seven hours. The result is an evocative story of substance and style.

He spent what remained of the morning following the ghosts of James Joyce and Italo Svevo through the streets and alleys of the old quarter…

David Brooks' fourth novel, The Conversation, takes place in real-time as two travelling strangers meet in the Italian seaside village of Trieste. A breezy, languorous read, the novel masks the years of work its author has invested in its creation.

Stephen, an ageing Australian expat, and the younger Irena serendipitously meet in a café in the novel's early pages and strike up the conversation of the title. As they begin to talk, and the book's pages turn, the couple share their philosophical thoughts, comic anecdotes, intimate confessions and deepest secrets, all made palatable and easily digestible by Brooks' style.

David Brooks, an associate professor in Australian Literature, had been keeping notebooks full of musings and thoughts for years, but needed a catalyst to tie them all together. It was only after realising that he could utilise a real-life event that the idea for The Conversation formed.

"I was having a conversation with the woman who would go on to become my wife," says Brooks, recalling a time in 2003. "It was one of those very intense conversations at the beginning of a relationship where you reveal the stories of your life."

In 2005, two years after that conversation and the same year he married his wife, Brooks sat down to start The Conversation, which would, over seven years, become a labour of love.

Although the situation of The Conversation is grounded in reality, Brooks is quick to stress that the novel is not a roman-a-clef.

"I had to make Stephen wiser than me, but also more foolish," laughs Brooks. He pauses before continuing… "Although some might say it's hard to get more foolish than me!"

Adding to the fictional charm of the novel is the fact that both Stephen and Irena are travellers, meeting in a foreign place.

"Travel opens people, they have less inhibitions and less customary boundaries," Brooks explains. This allows for his characters to make unguarded confessions and, ultimately, an intimate connection. Such a romantic notion recalls the wistful companionship that lonesome characters from classic travel films, such as Before Sunrise and Lost In Translation, make together.

Not surprisingly, then, Brooks was inspired by films in the creation of this novel, which largely consists of dialogue.

"The practice of making dialogue sound authentic is actually very inauthentic," explains Brooks who watched numerous films as a guide to striking the right tone with his work. "My first novel was two hundred pages and had just three lines of dialogue. This is a huge change for me."

This process took a long time and was amplified by the fact Brooks had to juggle creative writing with his duties as a lecturer in Australian Literature at the university.

"I should show my students a page from the first draft of The Conversation to compare with the final version- so much has been edited out," Brooks says. "Teaching is more demanding than ever, so I'm at the mercy of sabbaticals and uni holidays for my writing."

In addition to all of this, Brooks has been the co-editor of Southerly, Australia's oldest literary journal, since 1999. An avid reader, as well as writer, Brooks relishes this opportunity to see what is going on in the local literary scene.

"It gives me a chance to see what other people are writing," Brooks says, "It's a way of keeping in touch."

Brooks concedes that social networking has changed the way the book industry is operating, but has no ill feelings towards the fact.

"This is the first time my work will be published as an e-book," Brooks states, although he believes the hardcover copy "feels beautiful in the hand" and "will make a wonderful summer gift book".

Originally nervous, Brooks is now excited about his work finally being released after seven years in construction.

"I think maybe I've pulled it off- that it's not too philosophical, that it's not an imbalance," he says. "The responses I've had so far have been really positive."

The Conversation was released this week and is available in bookstores now.

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