Lindsay Tanner's debut is an entertaining crime novel set in Carlton, full of local colour. While it's essentially a crime yarn, Comfort Zone is also a sympathetic portrait of a middle-aged man that society has left behind, but who manages to find his better self through acts of kindness.
You can read our staff review of Comfort Zone here.
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North Melbourne Books talks to Lindsay Tanner
North Melbourne Books: While Comfort Zone is primarily a crime novel exploring the gritty underbelly of Carlton and the complicated world of Somali politics, at its heart is a story about a middle-aged cab driver that society has left behind. Jack Van Duyn is resentful and self-pitying, yet he finds his better self through acts of kindness. How did the idea for the story come to you?
Lindsay Tanner: To be honest I am not really sure. Jack somehow wandered into my consciousness a few years ago, and I started to wonder what would happen if his hum-drum existence was disrupted by a few curve-balls. So I dreamed up the playground incident, and everything kind of flowed from that. All the way through I was driving the narrative by asking myself "how will he respond to that?" or "what happens next?"
NMB: The portrait of Jack Van Duyn is a very sympathetic one. Single and childless, living in a cramped flat, he sees himself as a bit of a loser. This is a world very far from your previous life as a politician and finance minister. How did you get into Jack’s world?
LT: Both as a politician and in previous "lives" I have been exposed to an amazingly broad and diverse range of people, particularly in inner Melbourne. Jack isn't modeled on anyone, but I have known a fair few Jacks over the years. They are mostly people who aren't particularly motivated, and have settled into a pretty dull, difficult existence at the bottom end of the socio-economic spectrum partly because they can't be bothered doing much else. They often have unusual characteristics and undeveloped talents.
NMB: What made you want to turn to fiction writing after a career in politics? Were there things that were difficult to say as a politician that are easier said in fiction?
LT: I have published seven non-fiction books over the years, and countless essays and articles, so I wanted to find out what writing fiction was like and whether I could do it. I didn't intend it to be a means of political expression, but it turned out that way a bit. And it did enable me to make a point that would have been much harder to make if I didn't have Jack helping me.
NMB: At the end of Comfort Zone Jack’s romantic prospects seem to be looking up. The reader is left hoping something might work out for Jack and his new friend Emily. Are there any plans for a follow-up novel?
LT : I am working on a sequel now. It is quite a different challenge, and there is no guarantee it will ever see the light of day. I will only proceed with it if I am convinced I have produced something worthwhile. Writing a sequel entails a number of dilemmas that you don't have to deal with when you are creating the original novel.
NMB: What books are you enjoying reading at the moment.
LT :I always read about four or five books at once. I have almost finished Peggy Frew's Hope Farm, which is brilliant. I am ploughing through Alan Ryan's On Politics, and am about a third of the way through Volker Ullrich's Hitler. I am also reading Malcolm Fraser's autobiography co-authored by Margaret Simons, and have just finished Peter Nixon's excellent autobiography and the most recent book from my favourite novelist William Boyd, Sweet Caress.
Comfort Zone, by Lindsay Tanner. Published by Scribe. ISBN: 9781925321029 RRP: $29.99