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A story about sexuality, the ache of friendship and love, and sticky summers at the pool, this exhilarating debut novel captures the heartbeat of one transformative summer where alliances are made and broken.
‘I was an agent of Dan, a captive of his, really. I went where he wanted me, and did as he wanted, and for a long time, in this way, I was happy.’
It’s been a long winter in a creaky house in Brunswick, where a young man has devoted himself to recreational showers, staring at his phone, and speculating on the activities of his best friend and housemate, Dan. But now summer is coming, and Dan has found a boyfriend and a job, so the young man is being pushed out into the world, in search of friendship and love.
The Adversary is a sticky summer novel about young people exploring their sexuality and their sociability, where everything smells like sunscreen and tastes like beer, but affections and alliances have consequences. It asks what kinds of stories are possible – or desirable – for which kinds of friendships, and what happens when you follow those stories to their natural conclusions.
Author: Ronnie Scott
Paperback Published 4 April 2023 256 pages
Originally published in trade paperback 15 April 2020
Recommended by Graeme:
"This Australian debut novel has a wry charm and a very distinctive literary style. There is very little plot. The narrator and his best friend Dan share a house in Brunswick, Melbourne. Dan has a boyfriend Lachlan, and the two of them are intent on the narrator befriending Lachlan’s outlandishly dressed flatmate Chris L. But this scheme doesn’t unfold simply and is complicated by a visiting American with the unusual name of Vivian, who Chris L. is entangled with and who the narrator also feels attracted to or curious about due to his prominent crotch. The Adversary is unusual for a gay-themed novel, in that it is almost entirely sexless, despite a great deal of searching and studying Grindr which occasionally leads to meet-ups. The online banter is exceptionally well written and the sex when it does happen is also highly entertaining as it tends to be disastrous. Case in point - an unsatisfying sexual encounter between Dan and the narrator early in the novel which is brilliantly written. “There is no reason it can’t be fun to make out with a high person, but not when they are very high and you are very not; it is a matter of disagreeing focuses. It was also daylight, too early to be this cooked.” When the narrator proposed trying again, Dan insisted he is ‘a one-time special only’! So for the narrator at least there is something unresolved and there may even be some murky unrequited feelings, which makes for a very interesting exploration of the friendship and the subtext between these two. Yet despite the lack of action (in terms of plot and sex) The Adversary is a thoroughly engaging read - witty, very well-written and genuinely fresh. There is also a real sense of suspense as to what the outcome will be for the narrator which is ultimately concluded very cleverly."
"Ronnie Scott’s debut novel The Adversary is set during what appears to be an uneventful Melbourne summer but actually sees a lot happening to its protagonist. Languishing in emotional and social paralysis, Scott’s unnamed narrator is confronting an eroding friendship with his housemate Dan and the prospect of a long, stifling summer of ennui. A trip down the coast with newfound friends forms a turning point, with a cocktail of drugs and alcohol—and a cut foot—triggering some sobering realisations. Scott skilfully lays bare his protagonist’s many social and sexual doubts, highlighting how they contribute to his self-sabotaging as he struggles to make meaningful connections while orbiting a small social world. Sites across Melbourne act as queer touchstones—from the Fitzroy pool to Richmond’s harsh high-rises—furnishing the book with a local and relatable feel, while also showing that every city has spaces where social friction and friendships play out, gay or otherwise. Scott adeptly mines the complexities of queer desire and kinship, revealing how bonds between queer men—whether as friends, lovers or in-between—can be vague and undefined but also anchoring and deeply affecting at the same time. The Adversary is a moving and revelatory book and is sure to join the queer Australian canon." Books + Publishing
" Scott’s debut novel is the summer we didn’t get to have. The unnamed protagonist gently guides us around Melbourne’s inner north, from swimming pools, gyms, and queer nightlife, to rental properties that feel all too familiar in their decrepitude. The story, which takes place over a number of weeks, follows the protagonist’s relationship with his friend and housemate Dan, whose own relationship with boyfriend Lachlan is at the stage of trawling the streets of Fitzroy to check out real estate. The narration is warm and funny and offers intimate insights into the protagonist and his feelings about PrEP, the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey, sex, drugs and friendship. It’s a beautiful, engaging and relatable read." The Guardian Australia