Scoop Review of Books

Free Running, Free Verse

Run by Tm Sinclair (Penguin Australia, March 2013)
Review by Mark P. Williams

Tim Sinclair’s Run is a Young Adult thriller set in the world of parkour.

Also called L’art du déplacement (131), parkour is a combination of street gymnastics and free running based on a clear philosophy of movement and lifestyle which emphasises freedom and creativity. To match its subject, Sinclair’s novel is written in free verse which it twists into shapes to accentuate the importance of movement to the narrator Dee.

The plot of Run explores the links between the philosophies of parkour and the struggles of suburban Australian teenage life, combining these with the suddenly more dramatic one of contemporary spying and surveillance. It’s an effective combination.

Flashbacks of Dee’s progression from school to college, learning parkour and developing as a practitioner are intercut with the sudden intrusion into his world of mysterious outside forces who want to use his skills for their own purposes.

The free verse device heightens the plot and helps illuminate the significance of parkour’s philosophy to its characters. They are trying to find a place in the world; parkour offers them a different way of looking from those around them.

Tim Sinclair’s Run makes the text of the story go through the motions it describes. Where there is an obstacle for his characters to get through, over or around it appears in words and his narrative words have to move around it. Waves, brambles, pedestrians and other objects are given voice in a font called Road Art Regular, which obstructs, intrudes, even fills the rest of the page while Dee’s narrative voice in moves across the page in one called Bembo, going under, over, around and through the obstacle-words. It’s a beautiful effect at times.

The book pulls few punches in its portrayal of personal growth in the face of a repressive normalcy imposed between school and society as Dee finds his niche among like-minded friends and other outsiders: Trench, his best friend Jessie and her girlfriend Hannah. Its web of characters is small and neatly contained, and the threats they face — surveillance and arrest — convincingly understated. The moments of greatest freedom granted to Sinclair’s narrator are the moments of greatest visual freedom for the reader.

I love it when writers make a real effort to use the visual surface of the page and integrate it into their plots. I like B S Johnson’s hole cut through the pages which gives the reader a lingering flash-forward to one scene, many pages in advance, and Alasdair Gray’s illustrations, footnotes, side-notes and interruptions. Likewise, I love the labyrinthine typography of Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves, and Steven Hall’s rearrangements of words into monstrous fish-shapes in The Raw Shark Texts. Sinclair’s Run makes his pages into spaces and his words into movements.

In a knowing nod to cinema, Dee observes at one point that a film would inevitably show his learning parkour from Trench in a montage of repetition, ‘high fives and fist bumps’ (27) before the novel shows two pages of textual equivalent: the hard training where repeated words: ‘barricade barricade barricade’ physically obstruct the flow of text (28). Then the next line on the following page tumbles towards the block of verses with an arrow of rolling movement and with that we’ve jumped the central gutter of the pages with Dee.

I want to say more about what happens, but the plot is tightly put together; I want to give more of an impression of what’s written and how it slides across the page, but I think it needs the reader to choose the pace of movement.

This is a fast read but one where you’ll want to linger over those pages of sliding pose-poetry to get the physical sense of movement and ideas they convey. Sometimes the words form pictures, sometimes impressions of background noise. It’s a visual composition which draws together elements of experimental poetry to express experience through the visual plane after Guillaume Apollinaire’s Calligrammes.

Tim Sinclair’s Run is an exercise in exploring the ideas of liberation and creativity; it’s about ways of seeing spaces and of thinking about how we move through the world — Sinclair ends with an afterword which says: ‘Try this at home. [….] I mean try parkour. Try poetry. They’re for everyone.'(236)

Run video trailer from author


Mark P. Williams
Political Journalist and Independent Academic Researcher

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