Book Review: The Adversary by Ronnie Scott

By Tom Van Essen


Reading Ronnie Scott’s (of The Listed Brow esteem) debut novel ‘The Adversary’ struck me with its wistful immediacy. A kind of sentimentality that made me simultaneously longing and repellent for my days of inner-city sharehouse living, in all its messy, hellish finitude. Yet, it was the complicated politics of gay friendship and companionships that were intriguing as they were foreign to me (as a sedentary, hetero-homebody) that kept my mind occupied until long after it had drawn its conclusions.

The protagonist is the young, reticent, and hopeless-romantic type who in the midst of summer uni break finds himself at ends with queer culture’s transient space of online hook-up apps. Searching for love and acceptance and paradoxically being attracted to things we can’t have, may be an all too relatable conceit in YA/romance fiction. But Scott explores this subject with considerable depth and existential trepidation: “Maybe these were my kinks, finally my kinks: things that belonged to other people and were indifferent to me.”

But this debut is not without certain shortcomings. There is a roughness to the way many of its plot threads are solved by way of ex-machina that Scott through the mouthpiece of the narrator playfully acknowledges, which is cute if not slightly unfulfilling. As one of Scott’s characters pontificates ‘jumping into the unknown but chosen’; sometimes fate can play out in expected ways that fiction dictates. Perhaps an ode to the old cliché of life imitating art.

This banality might turn away some, this was one of the main draws for me. The familiarity of the modish locales of Brunswick and Fitzroy would typically prompt great cultural cringe in me, but I found this forthrightness refreshing. The characters are all flawed, their motivations at best ambivalent and at worst downright vindictive, and in many ways deeply unlikable in that sort of pretentious north-sider way of thinking smoking looks cool and exclusively eating organic produce. But, if you like I, can brave this rugged exterior you will find a thoughtful, well measured and at times moving contribution to the Melbourne literary landscape.



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