Sunday 24 April 2016

Dreaming the Enemy

Dreaming the Enemy by David Metzenthen (Allen & Unwin) PB RRP $19.99 ISBN 9781760112257

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

The lives of thousands of young Australian men were changed in the 1960s when names were drawn from a ballot so they could be sent to fight in the war in Vietnam. Johnny (Shoey) Shoebridge, the protagonist in Metzenthen’s latest novel, is a returned Vietnam vet, who suffers PTSD.
The reader is taken inside Shoey’s head as he tries to rationalize his time in war and as he wonders about fitting into post-war life.  Desperately he tries to build his sense of self in the aftermath of a horrific episode in his life when he was ordered to kill. He constantly re-visits the battlegrounds and becomes obsessed with a Viet Cong ghost-fighter called Khan.

Disassociating, Shoey ‘sees’ Khan and others – Thang and Trung – his mind constantly switching from the Vietnam jungle to the present when he is alone in a fishing hut trying to recover. Shoey has, writes Metzenthen, ‘amassed a dose of fury’ and ‘his scars were like armour.’ In ‘the dark pressing reaches of his mind,’ he recalls everything he knew in war from ‘a severed brown hand found after a firefight’ to ‘a smack of a bullet hitting a jaw.’ The reader reaches inside Shoe’s hyper-vigilant mind and roots for him to ‘move on’ which his family and friends urge him to do. But of course it is not as easy as simply wanting to do this.

This confronting book will challenge any sensitive reader. Metzenthen is a fine writer who is skilled at characterisation, writing with flair, elegance and beautifully crafted sentences. This is a deeply moving novel by one of Australia’s top YA authors which is sure to enthrall (mostly) boy readers aged 13 years and up. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Dreaming the Enemy being short-listed for literary awards.

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