Published in London in 1937 to wide acclaim, Kenneth Mackenzie’s The Young Desire It is a stunning debut novel about coming of age – an intimate and lyrical account of first love, and a rich evocation of rural Western Australia.
The Young Desire It won the Australian Literature Society Gold Medal, and is now back in print for the first time in years with a new introduction by David Malouf.
Fifteen-year-old Charles Fox is sent away to boarding school, innocent, alone and afraid. There one of his masters develops an intense attachment to him. But when Charles meets Margaret, a girl staying at a nearby farm for the holidays, he is besotted, and a passionate, unforgettable romance begins.
In the late afternoon of a day in February, that hottest of Australian summer months, when a brutal sun stood bronze above the river flats which you may see from the dormitory windows of Chatterton, Charles came to the school with his mother, walking from the railway station to the gates by a private path across a burnt, untidy field, overhung with Cape lilacs that still drooped, dusty and melancholy…In the lower part of his belly fear kicked and pulsed like a child in the womb, ready to be born.
Kenneth Mackenzie was born in 1913 in South Perth. His parents divorced in 1919, and he grew up with his mother and maternal grandfather on a property at Pinjarra, south of Perth. He was a sensitive child who developed an intense love of nature.
At age thirteen Mackenzie was sent to board at Guildford Grammar School in Perth. His experiences there informed his first novel, The Young Desire It, published under the name Seaforth Mackenzie by Jonathan Cape in 1937. The author was just twenty-three.
The novel drew praise from The Times, Spectator and Sydney Morning Herald; the Liverpool Daily Post called it ‘amazingly brilliant’. It was awarded the Australian Literature Society Gold Medal.
By this time Mackenzie had studied law, worked as a journalist and moved to Sydney. There he met the leading lights of the literary scene – among them Kenneth Slessor and Norman Lindsay – and married. He and his wife had a daughter and a son.
Mackenzie’s subsequent novels were Chosen People (1938), Dead Men Rising (1951), based partly on his experience of the Cowra prisoner breakout, and The Refuge (1954). He also produced two volumes of poetry.
Mackenzie’s last years were spent mainly alone, in declining health and battling alcoholism, at Kurrajong in New South Wales. On 19 January 1955 he drowned in mysterious circumstances while swimming in Tallong Creek, near Goulburn.
The Young Desire It is published by Text Publishing and is available from all leading booksellers. for more information, visit: www.textpublishing.com.au for details.
Image: courtesy of Text Publishing