The Returns

Transit Lounge, 2020

Shortlisted for:

  • 2020 Miles Franklin Award
  • 2020 Queensland Premier’s Prize

Elizabeth posts a ‘room for rent’ notice in Trevor’s bookshop and is caught off-guard when Trevor answers the advertisment himself. She expected a young student, not a middle-aged bookseller whose marriage has fallen apart. But Trevor is attracted to Elizabeth’s house because of the empty shed in her backyard, the perfect space for him to revive the artistic career he abandoned years earlier. The face-blind, EH Holden-driving Elizabeth is a solitary and feisty book editor, and she accepts him, on probation…

Miles Franklin finalist Philip Salom has a gift for depicting the inner states of his characters with empathy and insight.

In this poignant yet upbeat novel, the past keeps returning in the most unexpected ways. Elizabeth is at the beck and call of her ageing mother, and the associated memories of her childhood in a Rajneesh community.

Trevor’s Polish father disappeared when Trevor was fifteen, and his mother died not knowing whether he was dead or alive. The authorities have declared him dead, but is he?

The Returns is a story about the eccentricities, failings and small triumphs that humans are capable of, a novel that pokes fun at literary and artistic pretensions while celebrating the expansiveness of art, kindness and friendship.

Praise for The Returns

The ‘returns’ of the title include Trevor’s father (long ago declared legally dead) abandoned talents and ways of seeing – but also the restoration of confidence, love and feeling that life is worth living and chances worth taking. This novel is a celebration of the most humble and unsung …The pithy observations, authentic dialogue and keenly rendered characterisation give weight to even the most minor of players and celebrate the poetry of ordinary existence. There is a joyousness in the author’s use of the well-turned phrase that makes this slice-of-life novel a delight to read, not least of all because of its spirit of generosity…

Miles Franklin Award Judges 2020

Philip Salom, better known for his internationally acclaimed poetry, is back as well with The Returns, a narrative of the minutae of lives in the streets of North Melbourne.

Stephanie Convert, The Guardian

Set in a slice of Melbourne struggling for recognition, between the dog shit and motor accidents and incompetent criminals, the cool eye of the painter and the cool voice of the editor deliver a cocktail of tenderness, irreverence and sometimes laugh-ou-loud humour in the face of what feels a little like disaster.

Jen Web, The Conversation

Salom has done the hardest thing, after all: to make happiness swing on the page, albeit only after putting his characters through a little hell of humiliation and ordinary sadness.

If Salom’s willingness to resist the ordinary course of narrative action is a tonic, it is also the thoughtfullness with which he does so that counts most. This is not a difficult novel for it’s own sake; it is lucid and smooth, paced at an easy lope. But the questions it asks of itself are as thorny and complex as anything in Australian literature.

Geordie Williamson, The Australian

Though this is a serious novel about love, memory, trauma, and relationships – classic tropes of literary fiction that Salom explores with psychological acuity– the work is consistently funny.

Salom goes deep into the minds of his characters, moving seamlessly between them and allowing their natural wittiness and insights to bubble up through the text. The writing is consistently rich and beautiful with the tight lyricism of poetry, even when it becomes deliciously bawdy. The Returns reads easily but has the transformative power of the most dense of novels. This is a novel to read once for the fun of it, and again for its sheer literary sumptuousness. It may seem, at first glance, like a simple story about two lost souls who heal one another through friendship, but like all of Salom’s work, The Returns is perfectly written, powerful exploration of friendship, dignity and love.

Magdelena Bull, The Compulsive Reader

It is a novel that seeks to enact its own thesis, its vitality arising from the push and pull of its ideas. It also displays a willingness to ironise its own concepts… the work of an author who is comfortable in his proficiency, sure of his ability to lure the reader with his relaxed tone and cheeky humour. Writing does have a personality. The Returns has it in spades. Like its admired predecessor Waiting, it recommends itself as a garrulous, smart  and (sometimes incongrously given its subject matter) likeable book — which might sound like faint praise, but it really isn’t.

James Ley, Sydney Review of Books

Salom is using the framework of the realist novel to explore ideas that might — at least some of them— lead to despair, but in the end, the reader is left with the sense of a warm and generous writerly consciousness, ruminating about the human condition and its possibilities for happiness in spite of everything.

Kerryn Goldsworthy, The Age

A tightly plotted story with a knowing and satirical edge … rich with character and change.

Brenda Walker, Australian Book Review

This empathetic, compassionate, observational perspective is typical of Salom’s writing: he is not one to bully readers into agreeing withhim about how the world ‘should’ be. Salom is a poet. His prose is rich, playful, funny, clever, and humming with energy. His linguistic virtuosity gives verisimilitude to the voices that constitute his characters’ mindscapes as they struggle to survive, connect and thrive.

HC Gilfind, TEXT Journal

Reading Philip Salom’s fiction is like an enchantment. His characters are distinctive and yet familiar; they are every person you’ve ever met who doesn’t quite ‘fit in’, but you don’t care because you like them anyway.

Lisa Hill, ANZ LitLovers