NEWCASTLE IS A CITY FILLED WITH MEN OF MANY NAMES – PLENTY OF MATTS, SEANS, LUKES AND BENS – BUT AFTER YEARS OF STEEL CITY MINGLING, THIS REPORTER HAS FOUND THAT THE REAL PIONEERS, THE NOVOCASTRIAN GLUE HOLDING THE CULTURAL SCENE TOGETHER, ALL SHARE A NAME WITH THE HUMBLE SAINT NICHOLAS. OUR CITY IS BURSTING AT THE SEAMS WITH NICKS, EACH DOING THEIR PART TO MAKE IT A BETTER PLACE. AFTER NOTICING THE COMMON BOND OF PASSION AND AMBITION ATTACHED TO THE NAME, IT WAS ONLY A MATTER OF TIME BEFORE THE MONTHLY NICK CAME INTO FRUITION, AS THERE ARE LIKELY SEVERAL NICKS NEAR YOU, KEEPING THE DREAM ALIVE IN THEIR OWN WAY, REGARDLESS OF RECOGNITION OR CELEBRATION. THESE ARE THEIR STORIES. I feel as though I have done the good people of Newcastle a disservice in my article on October’s Monthly Nick, local writer, Nick Milligan. I’ve always struggled with eBooks (if you’re reading the printed version of this article, I’m sure you can relate) as the concept of keeping my attention in one place digesting information that is not on the printed page has always been an obstacle for me. When the October Nick gave me a digital copy of his debut novel Enormity to read before our interview, I explained my deterrence to the kindle and that I wanted to pick up a printed copy to read it properly, proceeding to carry on with that article as if I had read more than just the blurb. The perfect crime. You were all none the wiser. Months later, finally the owner of a hard copy, I found myself spending twice as much time on trains – which had quickly become sacred chambers of quiet carriage concentration, desperate to cram in another chapter of what could be my favourite thing to come out of Newcastle.
Enormity is a very difficult story to give an ‘elevator pitch’ for. Before I sat down with Nick about the book, I was told it was about an astronaut who lands on another planet and becomes a famous rock star by claiming popular earth songs as his own. This immediately gave the sci-fi comedy vibe of the Craig Robinson plotline in Hot Tub Time Machine, or the Enchantment Under The Sea dance in Back To The Future, and, if anything, gave me the wrong impression. About halfway into the novel, it became clear that using that synopsis would be like saying Breaking Bad is about meth, or Watchmen is about superheroes – one over-arching plotpoint is used as a jumping-off point for much larger, darker and more abstract themes. Enormity isn’t the sexy satirical rock and roll romp I was expecting, but a very genuine-feeling epic, transcending genres of sci-fi, horror, action, suspense and dark comedy.
Though the idea of dishonesty leading to unwarranted success is a big part of Enormity, a much more important theme explored in its chapters is the concept of celebrity, and how members of the entertainment industry are put on a pedestal by the general public. This is shown (without a grain of metaphoric subtlety) by this new planet treating our lyric-stealing protagonist, Jack, like the second coming of Christ, when his own sense of morality and self-indulgent behaviour should really have him fingered as a fallen angel. In between the sex and drugs, the small glimpses that are offered of the planet’s society, history and biology paint it as a much more peaceful utopian version of our own, and Jack’s alien presence there, along with his ‘discovery’ of rock and roll, is a ticking time bomb of disruption that he is very aware of. Along with uncovering a nation-wide conspiracy, interacting with deadly other-worldly creatures, fabricating an intricate web of lies to conceal his alien status and the slew of his other experiences covered in Enormity, I can understand why these themes were omitted by readers using the ‘rockstars in space’ pitch. Describing a mix of Paradise Lost, Total Recall and Almost Famous, as if written by a lovechild of Brian K Vaughan, Kevin Smith and Henry Rollins, would be a very difficult thing to do in an elevator.
Enormity is a very easy read. With short, sharp sentences and well-resolved chapters with definitive peaks and valleys, it plays out in a very cinematic manner with a non-linear timeline, bouncing between the present and past like a jigsaw the reader needs to put together. As it is told from the perspective of the story’s only earth-native character, Jack’s role as narrator becomes similar to that of Twin Peaks’ Agent Dale Cooper, who David Lynch once described as an innocent: a ‘person you trust enough to go into a strange world with’. As Jack marvels over the difference between this new planet and his home, the reader is right there with him, which makes for very believable transitions between experimenting with other-worldly drugs in one scene, and hiding from gigantic alien spiders in the next. It’s easy, at times, to forget you’re reading a novel with sci-fi elements, as Enormity is speckled with charming, believable situations that could easily happen on our home planet, like Jack and his bandmates competing to get the pull-quote in an interview, or Jack’s reluctance to corrupt his next-door neighbour’s seemingly innocent daughter. Similarly, despite the very dark mix of horror and sci-fi the story can foray into, the novel can be refreshingly tongue-in-cheek at times, as well as very erotic, with a surprising level of intricacy. This has lead me to believe that Nick Milligan, the jolly Music and Movie Trivia host we all know and love, is secretly very good at sex and sex-related things. Take note.
It should not be taken lightly that I found this novel very hard to put down, as I have grown accustomed to (and developed my life’s profession around) written words with accompanying visuals. Nick once told me about the time he wrote a letter to Ralph magazine, commending them on their inclusion of model Jennifer Hawkins, predicting very big things for her future career. This was years before Hawkins became 2004’s Miss Universe, and the clipping of the printed letter became a prized possession of his, as confirmation of his good taste before the hype. I feel like this review will serve a similar purpose in my life. Give it a few years, and Enormity is going to be huge. If we can get to 2030 without seeing Jared Leto’s portrayal of Jack on the big screen, faking an Australian accent to describe his motivations behind writing Stairway To Heaven, I will eat my hat!