The Idealist is my first novel for quite a while. I’m a slow worker. Everything takes time. My last novel, Original Face, was published by Giramondo in 2005. At the launch back then I joked that it took me nine years to write and takes two hours to read. It’s a murder mystery. Writer Venero Armanno coined the term ‘Zen noir’ for it. In Zen you sit facing the wall for nine years, hoping to achieve enlightenment. Sometimes you’re helped by the thwack of a stick. The Idealist is a political mystery. I needed a goad to whip me across the finish line. A friend brought me one from Timor-Leste made of carved wood and braided leather.
The germ of The Idealist was a news item about the death of an Australian in Washington, somehow connected to the referendum in East Timor in 1999. My stories often start with a death. Original Face begins with a man being skinned. The king is beheaded on page one of The Rose Crossing. The Custodians starts with the excavation of a skull. Walter Benjamin famously wrote that ‘Death is the sanction of everything the storyteller can relate’ (Tess Lewis’s translation, New York Review Books 2019). Too portentous for me perhaps.
The news item soon disappeared but the story never ceased: independence for Timor-Leste in 2002, negotiations with Australia on maritime boundaries and resources, a dodgy treaty challenged when Australia was caught spying, and the continued persecution of Timor-Leste’s Canberra lawyer and his client Witness K. I thought about Australian behaviour in all this as a story germinated in my mind and stubbornly persisted. Thanks to Giramondo here it is. The Idealist. Fiction. You can read it in one sitting.
The Idealist is available from 1 September. Purchase here.
Tree Stories by Stephanie Radok
Bibliofile, Friends of the State Library
‘Being a writer in Adelaide’