from the editor's desk

Review of ‘The Lion in Love’ by Kevin Brophy

Brophy, Kevin. The Lion in Love. Braidwood: Finlay Lloyd Publications, 2022. RRP: $28.00, 176pp, ISBN: 9780994516572.

Julia Garas

The Lion in Love is the second collection of short fiction from Kevin Brophy, the renowned poet, essayist and fiction writer whose works include Walking (2013) and Look at the Lake (2018). The Lion in Love is a small book with stories of varying lengths, and it covers many themes, from exploring love, friendship and family, to death, grief, memory and change. What binds these stories together is a deeply introspective mood that intensifies the spectrum of the usually mundane emotions which accompany everyday activities and life events.

Many of the stories in this collection hold an interest in the environment, exploring how humankind exists both within and outside natural structures. This yields a Romantic sentiment reflected across the collection, as Brophy pushes us to consider how interconnected we are with matters of the natural world. The first story, ‘The Lesson’, offers ruminations on nature’s ability to induce reflection: ‘It’s as if there was something big for the sea to think about, something that has not yet occurred to him. If he could think it too, he would be occupied like the sea for the rest of his life’ (20). From this perspective—that of a young boy—the personification of the ocean seems innocent, as he focuses his energy on questions about it when he cannot receive answers to his questions about people. As a consistent force, the ocean existed long before him and will continue long after him, but his curiosity is really about what sustains a life force, as well as the connection between the natural world and the individual. 

It seems fitting that Brophy, an Emeritus Professor in Creative Writing at Melbourne University, includes stories on writing within his collection. ‘A History of Burnt Sienna’ focuses on a writer who aims to uncover the supposedly unchanging truth of the ‘obliviousness’ which is suffered by humans (121). Brophy’s writing is far from oblivious: it is highly aware of and concerned with what is happening around and within each of his characters. In the story, his language is precise and functional, producing detailed imagery that envelops the reader in its scenes: ‘The woman in the foyer smiled at him, her loose auburn hair and the silk of her scarf spreading him in a warmth he could do nothing to cool. Her eyes were dark and knowledgeable, her expression both reserved and eager. He kept her gaze until she spoke to him’ (122).‘A History of Burnt Sienna’, like many stories in the collection, fluctuates between being intensely in the moment and somehow detached, reporting a state of mind that encompasses and expresses the emotions and moments of the writer’s existence over time.

Brophy’s sensitive but purposeful style of expression lends each story a poeticism that, despite their differences, lets one narrative flow into the next. ‘Judgement’ takes the judge of an upcoming poetry competition on a trip that leads him to the mercy of the ocean, and then to deeper questions on the nature of judgement itself. Here, the judge holds power over some aspects of non-human life, and yet is compelled to submit to the non-human force of the ocean and thus his own fragility. This vulnerability is something he witnesses in nature, in himself and in poetry:

Even if we can’t say exactly what the meaning of a poem is, we can sense it when a poem matters. Maybe it’s even true that a poem is especially important when we can’t say exactly what it is that makes it matter, even when reading it has been overwhelming for us. (138)

If the word ‘poem’ is substituted with ‘short story’, then this quote accurately sums up The Lion in Love.

Brophy’s collection encourages the reader to ponder the emotions that govern their experiences. The final story, ‘The Lion in Love’, is particularly significant in its focus on the average person’s everyday experiences and observations through the recent pandemic. It prompts us to reflect on how quickly we are forgetting a period that, for many, was so bleak; how we have already abandoned the simple pleasures, such as gardening and neighbourhood interaction, which sustained us in periods of lockdown. It is a story that locates the imaginative potential within the individual, drawing on animalistic images and conflating those features with human characteristics and activities. Through a lion-like neighbour, the vision of the natural world permeated by human constructs reminds us of the value of imagination.

Overall, The Lion in Love leaves much to contemplate about people, the world and individual experiences, and the experience of reading it and the emotions it evokes is something I will return to regularly.

Julia Garas is a current PhD student in English and Cultural Studies at Curtin University. Her research interests include memory, media, literature, film and history.

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