The value of staying put

The value of staying put
Rhonda Dredge

Bar owner and writer Emily Bitto is a bit of a towering presence in the vivacious culture of Lygon St.

Her second novel Wild Abandon has just been released and people are rushing up to congratulate her.

Emily has changed her hair style, cut short and bleached, and she’s nervous about her new look.

But everyone recognises her anyway, including former hospo workers, who want to know about her latest ventures.

Emily grew up in a small Queensland town and her dad is from Slovakia, so she knows first-hand the struggles to be urbane.

This is one of the themes of her new novel, as Will, her country boy protagonist, pits himself against the excesses of America.

“I wanted to write about contemporary things, the relationship between Australia and America,” she said, and she has not been afraid to go against the Aussie realism grain with extravagant use of adjectives and metaphors.

“It’s all about excess,” she said of her new book. “Style is really important to me.” She calls her sentences baroque.

Emily and her boyfriend own Heartattack and Vine in Lygon St and her experience behind the bar, 90 hours a week in the early years, alerted her to a certain kind of young male who works in the industry.

“I was working with young 20-year-olds, day in and day out,” she said.

Will, her protagonist, is based on her observations. He isn’t exactly entitled but he goes on an overseas trip as a kind of hero’s journey.


I was really interested in the archetypal form of quest. It is one of the oldest sorts of forms in fairy tales such as The Odyssey I read and loved when young.


“It’s the ability to go out in the world and see it as a backdrop for your personal story. I wanted to do a version of that.”

There are no easy epiphanies for Will in Wild Abandon.

“I think one of the ways of thinking about that journey in books such as On the Road, is that the protagonists neglect the fact of the lives they touch, the trail of destruction as they go on an interior hero’s journey,” Emily said.

“His reactions are uppermost. He won’t think about the impact he has.”

Her first novel Strays won the inaugural Stella Prize for women’s writing and her theme is similar: how do minor players deal with larger-than-life males?

The answer seems to be that there are some truths about the warmth of the human spirit to be found in these characters that you only discover by staying put •

Caption: Emily Bitto greets a fan in Lygon St.

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