After the Party by Jesse Blackadder. Melbourne: Hardie Grant Books, 2005.
Jesse Blackadder’s first novel is an exploration of the physical and eclectic social terrain of Byron Bay: Sydney-sider holiday escape and stopover de rigour for the backpacker set. It follows the chain of events set into motion by Zac’s near-death experience at a party given by the emotionally inscrutable Black Dragon. Over a three-week period, Zac, Black Dragon, her friend Madeline and Zac’s girlfriend Kate roam between Sydney and Byron, searching and ultimately discovering important truths critical to unlocking their true vocation or potential for love.
Blackadder knows Byron well, though she is most successful in conveying its unique hippy cosmopolitan groove indirectly through the matter-of-fact way she describes some of its more bizarre denizens. Like, for instance, Pan and his half-feral cross-dressing band of male faeries who rescue Zac after a failed ocean suicide attempt. The following morning, Zac wakes to find himself in a house that is “single-handedly holding back the advance of the rainforest” near a make-shift dome enclosing “a solemn circle of seven men and women and a small, smoky fire”. Just then a man dressed as a woman in a gold cocktail gown and a pink feather boa, totters into view. “Yoo hoo! Pan! I’m late as usual. I lost my fucking eyelash on your fucking muddy path. When are you going to get a man to do some work about the place?”
Less convincing are the over-wordy riffs about and to the place sprinkled liberally – and unnecessarily – throughout the text. Riffs that sometimes run for pages with lines like “Welcome to Byron Bay, so beautiful it will make you weep” and “You are the gazuumper on the dream home, the developer who buys the last of the breach front land.” I also grew to detest the subheadings scattered liberally through each chapter. At best, they unnecessarily foreshadowed events (like the one entitled “Foccacia” that keyed me into the fact that the next few paragraphs would contain someone eating one). At worst, they were eye-rollingly twee, like the “You Give Me Fever” one preceding Zac’s sweat-drenched awakening to a serous flu-like illness. Occasionally, a smug omnipotent narrator creeps into the third-person voice, begging the question of his or her identity and source of knowledge about the characters’ pasts and futures. For all such errors of judgement, I am more inclined to blame editor than author. It is the latter’s job to take risks, and the formers to indicate when these succeed and fail.
And sometimes Blackadder’s risks do succeed. Throughout the book is the motif of the stalking hand of death whose needs must be satiated to balance the books of fate. When Zac evades death’s grasp in the early pages of the book, an aging whale succumbs instead, the mourning cries of its pod filling the ocean with sadness. Later, it is the life of a young girl whose story intersects with that of the mysterious Black Dragon that is snatched in the place of the new relationships, lives and possibilities that have emerged since the party. None too original, but Blackadder carries it off well, adding to After the Party’s cosmic beating-of-the-butterfly’s-wings theme of the interconnectedness of nature and those linked through the bonds of love.