expExposure: A Journey
Joel Magarey
Wakefield Press (Australia)
9781862548237
2009

I write this review just moments after finishing the book, and really, I’m aching from it. Joel Magarey has just taken me on an adventure – around the world, through illness and through love.

The narrative flows back and forth between periods in the ’80s and ’90s where Magarey travels with and without Penny, his love, and through episodes of his obsessive compulsive disorder. Kayaking in Alaska, poverty in India, reunions in Russia, the disappearance of ‘snakes of conflict, curiosity, urges, ambition’ when living with an indigenous tribe in Papua New Guinea – Magarey’s journey is raw, honest and contemporary. How does one dispel doubt about the self, about sexual experience, about what one doesn’t know in the world, without giving up something else? The world is so available to Magarey, as a young man – curious and creative by nature, experiencing compulsions and emotional claustrophobia; deciding between writing and academia, deciding between being alone or remaining intertwined with another. 

So much of the time the decisions are made for him – his fear, compulsions and doubt close in on his happiness, on stability. He experiences moments of insight both with Penny and with the world, but he also experiences epiphanies of nothingness – of distance and reality. There’s an existential current through the book – the narrative underpinned by Magarey’s strict religious upbringing and his later awakening to Sartre and co.

This is an enjoyable book for anyone to read, full of both internal and physical adventures – insightfully, beautifully, simply written. But I would particularly recommend it to people who experience angst with choice, who are perhaps neurotically-minded or creative and curious themselves, and those who have a capacity for open-minded love and adventure. You can live through some of those difficult (and magical) moments by reading Magarey’s book, before perhaps planning or deciding on some of your own adventures in the world, or adventures of the heart.

Magarey is appearing at the Emerging Writers’ Festival, on Monday 24 May as part of the Fifteen Minutes of Fame event, and as part of the Town Hall Program on Sunday 30 May he’ll be on the panel ‘Going to a Dark Place’. I look forward to meeting him.

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