Good Reading : April 2018
GOODREADINGMAGAZINE.COM.AU GOOD READING APRIL 2018 32 Justine Ettler’s beginnings as a published fiction wr iter played out like a debut author’s fantasy come true. She was the first person to sell two manuscr ipts as a debut author to a mainstream publisher – Pan Macmillan – and when the first of these manuscripts, The River Ophelia, was published in 1995, it generated a storm of media coverage and notor iety. The book was heralded as the beginning of a new genre in Australia, ‘grunge literature’, and Justine was dubbed its ‘empress’. But as the book racked up over 50000 sales – a bestseller 10 times over – Justine pulled the book from print. ‘Nobody does that,’ she says over two decades later, sitting across from me in a blustery waterfront park in Elizabeth Bay. ‘Not with a bestseller. I felt a bit shamed for the book. It’s complicated.’ Justine wrote The River Ophelia as a postmodern take on domestic violence, inspired in no small part by Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho. She named the lead character – a young university student who gets tangled up in a violent relationship replete with hard drugs and rough sex – after herself, and all the other characters were christened with names from classical literature, such as the boyfriend, Sade (from Marquis de Sade). ‘There’s a character in American Psycho, a prostitute, that knows what Patrick Bates is going to do to her. And she goes back. My question is, why do women go back for more? What is it about a certain type of woman that when she gets in with a violent, nasty guy, she doesn’t head for the hills? That’s how The River Ophelia started.’ But rather than acknowledge the book’s postmodern or theoretical ambitions, the publishers set about confecting scandal, and trying to allude that the events depicted in the book were based on the author’s life. ‘They asked me to do a nude cover,’ says Justine. ‘Me. To be nude. And they were going to hide my face and bring the book out, and if it didn’t create a stir, they were going to release to the media anonymously that it was me, to get people interested in the book. This is the sort of stuff they were doing back then. ‘That kind of sensationalistic marketing, it kills the author. No one takes the book seriously, it’s just a bit of titillation. I think when you write about sex and violence in an unconventional way – and the same thing happened with Bret Easton Ellis and American Psycho – you become notorious. Some people like being notor ious, others don’t. I wanted to be respected as a serious literary writer.’ Justine says the book is plagued by 1-star RETURN TO THE SHORE UP CLOSE 3 Sydney-based writer JUSTINE ETTLER burst on to the literary scene in 1995 with The River Ophelia. But the book’s marketing led the novel to be misunderstood, and rather than enjoying the booming sales of her debut, the author pulled the book from print and moved to London. She tells ANGUS DALTON about republishing the book in the era of #MeToo, and the release of her new novel, Bohemia Beach. . But the book’s marketing led Justine Ettler ‘THERE’S A PERCEPTION THAT IF YOU WRITE A CHARACTER WHO’S DRUNK, THAT YOU MUST BE A DRUNK TOO ...