A Review of Graeme Perrin's Saltworks
by David McLean
Graeme Perrin’s new novel Saltworks is a most unusual work. What I can say of it here is, perhaps more often than usual, very much “just my” opinion. This book that he has written/has written him seems to be many things as it works its ingratiating way through our skin like a signifier, or the disease that is any man’s life. I see in it primarily the acknowledgment that a life is a matter of textuality and texture, just so the book - as books are - is full of words that constitute a text, giving the impression, as they do so, of offering us a smell, a taste of salt (the taste of tears, but also the taste of pussy), and a texture, the rough feel of a New Zealand childhood - which I imagine felt like a childhood in Wales.
It seems to be a reflection, intensely self-reflexive in fact, by an expatriate New Zealander living in Denmark. Though the books focuses on the maturation of Jock Brine, a man whom one can often identify with Perrin, in New Zealand, it also reflects his progress through Stockholm and Copenhagen. There are many references to Swedish and Danish in the course of the book though never in a way that would actually remove any interest for a pure Anglophone, just a bonus for those of us that speak(in my case) Swedish.
Jock’s attitude to sex and sexuality is interestingly honestly depicted; this gives the book a great interest to men, since we can see ourselves in it, and presumably to women, on a “know your enemy” basis.
What I relate to most in the book, however, is the language and how words work here. Perrin is a poet and the novel is obviously written with a loving attention to the work of the words. Passages are written in a voice in some dialect. Since my knowledge of New Zealand comes exclusively from Once were Warriors I really can’t answer for whether it reflects how people speak there, but it is comprehensible.
Throughout, the figures of the family, under the forbidding and beckoning form of the FATHER work their way through the text. It’s difficult to shake the buggers off, your family, but it has to be done. Maybe your home country shouldn’t be shaken off in the same way. Maybe Saltworks is just the salt that works there. Salt works to preserve but also to corrode, to rust all the undersides of the cars in Northern
countries. It keeps edible, it kills and it flavours, adds savour - just like a childhood.
More people should read this book. It relates the reader to something very extraneous - unless they are a New Zealander - but also to something inside her, wherever she came from.
Saltworks is published by Trafford Publishing, 2007, and can be purchased on Amazon.com. More information about the book can also be found at Saltsongs MySpace.
David McLean has been submitting for the past year and has had around 300 poems accepted by 125 magazines. A chapbook "a hunger for mourning" with 53 of his poems has just been released by Erbacce Press.