It is a novel about the body – in various states of vulnerability, disrepair, health and disease, affected by states of lust or longing or vulnerability.
The theme of The Fatal Dance is intensely personal for Berndt Sellheim. The mother of an ex-partner was diagnosed with Huntington’s when they were together.
This genetic disease gave his then partner a 50% chance of inheriting it, which affected her significantly.
The experience was also deeply felt by Berndt, raising so many fascinating philosophical questions that have found his way into his new novel.
If you knew this disease ran in your family, would you get tested? Or would you leave it to fate? Would it dictate who you are, or what you become?
While the ‘fatal dance’ of the title refers to the jerky movements of those affected by Huntington’s Disease, it is also the dance that all the characters in the novel do around their wants and their desires, speaking to that frenzied collective dance of society, that desire for people to get what they want, when they want it.
Redmond Campbell’s luck has just taken a turn for the worse. His dog’s dead, his wife Bea went to prison three days ago, and he has to look after Bea’s sister, Lori, a wildly disinhibited woman with Huntington’s Disease. What really grates him though, is that despite all he’s done for her, Lori hates him.
In fact, even Redmond’s nephew, Mada – a PhD student searching for a cure to the disease that’s killing his mother, and potentially one day himself – doesn’t give Red the respect he deserves.
But Red is about to change all that. He’s got plans to become Sydney’s leading property agent – on the residential end, at least – and he’s about to make a connection that will line him up a killing. It’s almost legal too! Well, almost. What matters is that Red has a whiff of success, and he’s damn sure everything’s about to come up roses.
The Fatal Dance is funny and moving, profound and profane, both an intimate family drama and an incisive parable of capitalism and collapse. This is an anarchic, joy-filled, and ribald read from one of Australia’s most exciting authors.
A novel about the dance of the body through the world, it is a story brimming with sting, hope, and gratitude for a world that is equal parts cruel and kind.
Berndt Sellheim is a poet, novelist and academic. He has taught creative writing and poetics at UTS, and lectured in philosophy at Macquarie University, where he completed a doctorate in phenomenology in 2008. His academic research includes a year at the Husserl Archive and Paris4 Sorbonne. He also has a doctorate in philosophy.
Berndt Sellheim is the author of the novel Beyond the Frame’s Edge (Fourth Estate, 2013), and his poetry collection Awake at the Wheel (Vagabond, 2016) won the Federation of Australia Writers’ Anne Elder Poetry Award.
The Fatal Dance is his second novel. Berndt lives in British Columbia, Canada, with his wife Tara Moss, their daughter and a household of other creatures. He works in photography and video production for a museum outside of Vancouver.
Image: The Fatal Dance – courtesy of HarperCollins Publishers