Is spirituality back?

Natasha Moore ponders the attention given to spiritual experience in Heather Rose's memoir - and the spiritual themes in many recent books.

Ok, readers: what’s on your booklist for this year?

Here’s one for you: I’ve just finished Heather Rose’s new memoir Nothing Bad Ever Happens Here. Rose is the award-winning author of Museum of Modern Love and Bruny, and her story of grief, adventure, and chronic pain is both compulsively readable (you’ll race through it) and kind of blindsiding.

What struck me most is Rose’s serious and sustained attention to spiritual experience. I don’t think it’s controversial to say that the literary world in general, and Australian letters even more so, has tended to be a bit … reticent about things religious and supernatural.

I don’t know when that changed, but it seems like an interest in spiritual things is everywhere I now look for books. Hannah Kent’s 2021 novel Devotion is a ghost story heavily featuring Lutherans; 2022 Aussie novels include titles like Jesustown and Tiny Uncertain Miracles; internationally, Franzen’s latest novel and Colm Tóibín’s latest book of essays major on religion. To mention just a handful.

It makes sense that our writers would be drawn to the questions Rose raises at the outset of her book: ‘What is this thing called life? Why am I here?’ It feels like these at some point became embarrassing, jejune questions for sophisticated literary types. The search for the self has long been primary; the search for elemental truth, for God, left dormant.

But Rose’s account of supernatural encounters, dreams and visions, ancient ceremonies, gruelling spiritual disciplines, sacredness and joy, is refreshingly direct about the ‘something more’ that most of us do, when asked, credit. Her quest is for joy and fullness; it is an everyone quest.

After the slightly dizzying experience of reading Nothing Bad Ever Happens Here, it’s hard to disagree with her conclusion: ‘Perhaps spirituality is another word for curiosity.’