“The Swan Book” from the RISC book club

The Swan Book by Alexis Wright is imaginative, fantastic, tragic, political and absorbing. This was the book club choice in November 2016 at Katesgrove’s Reading International Solidarity Centre (RISC).

The reader is transported to the world of social manipulation of communities, through government and other programmes, and immersed in the places where Oblivion Ethylene (Oblivia) grows up and travels. Subtle devices and stereotypes are employed by the author to engage the audience as the narrative develops.

A suspension of disbelief is engineered from the start; the setting is the future after an apocalyptic climate change disaster. The book’s style is best described as magical realism.

The trials of the life of Oblivia form the structure of the book, which falls naturally into three acts.

In the first act of the book, Oblivia is living on a boat with Bella Donna when a black swan arrives. Bella Donna has been washed up in Australia. A typical middle-aged, middle-class traveller who reminisces about the good old days before the catastrophe struck, she is an easily recognised stereotype.

Oblivia meets and marries Warren Finch, the first aboriginal president of Australia, and their relationship plays out in the second act of the book.

The third act brings a conclusion of a kind.

This is the latest novel by Alexis Wright (1950 – ), a member of the Waanyi nation of the Gulf of Carpentaria, Australia. Her book Carpentaria won her the 2007 Miles Franklin literary award which is “awarded each year to a novel which is of the highest literary merit and presents Australian life in any of its phases”. She is a land rights activist and has also written non-fiction works.

The RISC book club meets on the last Thursday of every month and the selected titles are on sale in the World Shop. The next meeting is on Thursday 27 April at 19:30 and the book selected is The Seamstress and the Wind by César Aira. To join the club contact michele@risc.org.uk.


  1. The Swan Book by Alexis Wright, published by Giramondo 2013
  2. The Miles Franklin literary award
  3. RISC book club