Reviewed by E. B. Heath
The Student is a wild read! Iain Ryan has written this adrenalin-fuelled novel in the hard-boiled noir genre. However, there is more to this novel than the rush of testosterone driven, drugs, sex and violence, all of which is portrayed unflinchingly. A nuance of vulnerability associated with a coming-of-age memoir threads through the text, probably because the characters are all young and messed up. Ryan’s impressive prose style dramatically drives the narrative forward.
Ryan’s writing is fast paced but not simplistic. Even during high velocity action he has a handle on the psychology of his characters, he is constructing their profiles all the time, but what he is doing is not obvious because it happens at speed. The rhythm of Ryan’s foreshadowing, flashbacks and inner dialogue is almost poetic. The plot is enthralling. The narrative is raw, often taxing. The result is addictive.
The Student is set in Gatton in 1994. The action moves around the area, from the University of Queensland campus, Gatton Township and Toowoomba. The small town of Gatton sits at the foot of the Toowoomba range, is home to the University of Queensland rural focused agricultural campus. It is also the administrative centre for the surrounding agriculture of the Lockyer Valley, which provides vegetables to Brisbane. The region has to put up with drought, flood, and pizza oven heat and in these trying conditions no one could blame the inhabitants for indulging in a bit of home-grown entertainment. But in The Student it is mostly undergraduates, whose use of large amounts of marihuana forms a backdrop, a permanent haze, over the continuous action.
The reader is hooked into the narrative from the first line. And every other line from there on – there isn’t any ‘down-time’ in this novel.
The white sun in my eyes. A road train sprays gravel at the phone booth like a bomb blast. It’s September and September is the month my supply goes bad. An early end to winter. A giant mess.
Nate emerges from a dysfunctional home in suburban Brisbane to study business at the Gatton campus. He is a loner; he leaves for Gatton with Iris, his one friend from school. Later he meets the charismatic, drug dealing Jesse, who involves him in his ‘business plan’ supplying the student body with weed. The supply dries up and Jesse disappears, leaving Nate to deal with some life threatening problems. The unsolved murder of Maya Kibby begins to weave into Nate’s life as he is attempting to untangle the chaos that Jesse has caused. There is mystery within mystery; nothing is as it seems, least of all his friend Jesse.
Are there any editorial glitches in this novel? I don’t think so. But, in truth, I might not have noticed. A red-backed-spider in the company of a scorpion crawling along the page would not have given pause.
This is not a book that, once begun, is easily left unread. Neither is it a book that would appeal to everyone, it is as advertised, a hard-hitting, life in the raw, crime mystery. It does not pander to sensitivities, explicit sex and violence pervades. But these moments are not gratuitous; rather such instances are integral to the narrative and character. It is economically written, every line builds plot and the profile of the personalities within the story.
This talented author grew up in suburban Brisbane. He was enrolled for a brief period at the Gatton University of Queensland campus to study economics, but resigned, deciding to tour around Australia as a musician. Ryan now lives in Melbourne, he has an academic position teaching music and writes part time. The Student is his second novel the first being Four Days, which was short-listed for the Ned Kelly Award. He has dedicated this novel to ‘Iris’. Iris is also a character in the novel.
Iain Ryan is worth reading; he is a new dynamic Australian writer with a very bright future.
By Iain Ryan
Echo – a division of Bonnier Publishing, Australia
ISBN: 9781 760406370 (paperback)
ISBN: 9781 760408398 (ebook)
225 pp; $24.99