What would you do if your house wasn’t where you left it? After all, we’ve all momentarily misplaced our car at a shopping mall, or been stopped in our tracks by the realisation you don’t remember where you left your phone. Minor panics, at best.
But what if you returned from a day out to find not only your house, but your entire street is suddenly… gone. Replaced by a different street, or by a lake, an office tower. Your house now at home in a different suburb, a different landscape altogether.
Rhett Davis’ debut novel is a tour de force straight out of the gate. We are immediately on shaky ground, dropped in the midst of a family schism that only reveals itself piece by piece.
Alice and Julia Wren are sisters long estranged. Julia lives with her son George in Fraser – Davis’ stand-in for Melbourne. Already the city has started to shift – highways have begun running in different directions – but for the most part, life has carried on in familiar patterns.
This isn’t to say all is well. Julia has been retreating further and further into an online video game where she can create her own safe world, drenched in nature. George refuses to speak, communicating solely via text. Alice herself is running from a secret that spans continents, but involves a celebrated art collective whose latest exhibition turned fatal.
Surrounding them all is a world in unpredictable flux. The internet has turned into a tide of conspiracy theories, authorities have no explanation nor power over the rearranging city while resentments between neighbours and families begin to boil.
Of course, on the one hand you can read Hovering as a stirring commentary on our own sorry state of affairs, in this era of suspicion, cynicism and fervent nationalism. But it is also an engrossing page-turner, whose characters you come very quickly to care deeply for. It is also a novel that plays very effectively with form; rather than page after page of text, we often find the story continues via email threads, or through instant messaging between George and his friends. There are sections where the story is progressed by data fingerprints; following a character via the pings, search requests and location tracking captured by their phone.
It’s an innovative read, and Davis maintains a hugely enjoyable tone throughout. Although it’s his first novel, the man clearly knows what he’s doing. Rhett Davis will be appearing at the 2023 Bellingen Readers & Writers Festival.