Damien Wilkins


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Jamie is a forty-one-year-old drug addict. His kidneys, ‘master chemists of the body’, have just produced a stone. He’'s in terrible pain and he needs surgery. Great news.

However, the hospital stay doesn'’t quite work out and Jamie, knowing it’'s ‘the lowest thing he’'s ever done’, decides he must go somewhere he hasn'’t been in years— – home; to Timaru, where his brother happens to be a chemist and his sister a doctor. Surely this pair, with their access to pharmaceuticals –— and their blood ties —– will help him. And if all else fails, there is Jamie'’s insomniac mother, who has various prescriptions ‘running around inside her cupboards.’

An old hand at deception, the character of Jamie occupies one pole in this novel; at the other end is a pair of similarly desperate eighteen-year-olds: Sally, who is on the methadone programme and has a colicky baby, and Shane, the father of the baby, who has tried to get on the methadone programme and is now watching his life leak away at the cheese factory. As some kind of solution, Sally and Shane embark on a blackmail plot which eventually draws in many of the other characters and which builds to an explosive end.

Chemistry is a story about bad choices and those who suffer the consequences. It is also a story about the resourcefulness of the sufferers— – about those who come through. Dark and funny and frightening, it is a novel fastened hard to the recognisable details of small-town New Zealand life, which moves with great force to its unexpected and eloquent conclusion. It is Damien Wilkins'’s finest novel yet.

DAMIEN WILKINS’'s previous novels include The Miserables, which won the New Zealand Book Award for Fiction in 1994, and Nineteen Widows Under Ash, which was joint runner-up for the Deutz Medal for Fiction in The Montana NZ Book Awards 2000.

'Wilkins has managed to do that hard thing in this novel – write about his characters as citizens of a particular place and make that place real, multiple and textured. . . [his] clear and beautiful prose, and his sinewy grip on narrative make it a joy to read.' —Lydia Wevers, Evening Post

'powerful and original' —Louise O'Brien, Dominion

'With driving intelligence, Chemistry elevates court-page misbehavior and petty indiscretions to the status of epiphanies, accompanied by the sound of wry laughter in the dark.' —David Eggleton, NZ Listener

'packed with brilliantly handled stylistic manoeuvres, able to slide from greasy realism to polished figuration in the space of a phrase. Wilkins writes with restraint, concision and a precise balancing of figure to its effect.' —Mark Williams, NZ Books