EXPOSURE by Joel Magarey excerpt

                 Here is

                 the unfinished map of the world,
                 the mists of slow mountains,
                 the ache of the whale,
                 the blue water crescent,
                 the sulphur-yellow caking
                 around the volcano,
                 the wind’s wild whisper.

                 Take it all and go further.

                      – Penny 


In the early years when we were kissing, Penny and I would sometimes share the same breath, one lungful flowing between us as long as the oxygen lasted. I would come as close to her in that warm blind join of air as later in the joining of our bodies, dreams, and journeys. But once, on a night in Bombay, when our journey to India had taken me too far, Penny kissed me that way to try to bring me back.

Late that night I’d found myself running through the blue-black streets of the Colaba district. Something was happening to me – I’d been pounding through these streets for hours. A few blocks back I’d given a white-haired old woman nearly all our remaining rupees. When she’d taken them I’d been flooded with relief, but now as I raced towards the hotel the fear was again at my heels.

Rounding a corner, unable to stop in time, I jumped over a body. Ahead hundreds more lay sprawled, Bombay’s homeless sleeping on the pavement. In panic I swerved away from the sleepers and ran down the middle of the empty road. I didn’t understand what was happening to me but I knew I had to avoid getting caught again. I tried to think only about getting back to Penny and the hotel room, and this time staying there. All night as I’d headed back I’d kept seeing more crippled women, blind men or deformed children and kept getting urges; and though I’d resisted them, in the room they’d become so painful I’d had to run out to those people too. And each time that happened the most frightening urge intensified – the pressure in my chest that wanted me not to leave India in the morning, to let Penny fly home without me, and to make these streets my life.

Chest burning, I stopped at a corner lit in hazy yellow light and looked up and down the intersecting roads. A quiet voice made me turn. By a shop window a bone-thin, shawled woman stood cradling a baby. Without thinking I met her gaze – and looked away too late. I’d seen the two bloody crescents of infection, crawling up the whites of her eyes. My mind stilled, then hazed. The new urge landed like a punch.

Come out again to her with your Australian dollars. Or she’ll go blind – left like this by you.

My palms flew to my temples, I turned, and I sprinted.

Ten minutes later I’d reached the hotel and was hurrying past the night watchman, leaping up the staircase, jogging along the passage. At last; in the room again. I slumped back against the door. Penny was sitting on the bed in her T-shirt and undies, face strained and disapproving.

‘Penny, there’s another one.’

‘Joel! You said that—’

‘Will you stop me if I try to go out again? Physically, if you have to?’

For a moment Penny stared. Then her expression softened, and she got up and came over to me.

‘I will.’ She nodded. ‘I’ll stop you.’ Taking my arm, she tugged on it gently. ‘So, now, come to bed.’

The relief her promise brought and the compassion spreading over her face drew out the tears that had been welling in me for the five days since this had started.


Exhausted, Penny fell asleep quickly. Within minutes the urge to go back out to the bloody-eyed woman began to whisper. One last run, quickly, while she’s still there. Save her sight . . .

Sweating, stomach knotting, I tossed and huffed, until Penny moaned and pulled herself to me, draping a warm arm around my shoulder.

‘Sleep, now,’ she murmured. ‘If there’s anything to do, we’ll see in the morning. Now, only sleep, okay?’

With a great effort I managed to lie still.

Two hours later, she woke again. ‘No good?’ She drew herself up to rest on an elbow. In the darkness I felt her hand exploring my face like a blind person’s.

‘Hey,’ she said. ‘Give me your mouth.’

Leaning down, she kissed me, then breathed gently into my mouth. I took her breath and returned it, and as we breathed like that I felt a caress of calmness for the first time since morning. She air-kissed me again; I felt calmer still. She did it a third time and finally, in that surging warmth, I felt the first gentle tugs of sleep, pulling me somewhere safe.

Praise for Exposure

‘An extraordinary story . . . wry, honest, amusing and evocative.’ Eva Hornung

‘A striking and substantial book, at once compelling, scary, delightfully comic and moving.’ Tom Shapcott

Joel Magarey guest blogs on life, death, and EXPOSURE

Since Exposure has come out, a few journalists have asked me what my most extreme travel experience was, which has got me thinking about death – always good for a new perspective on life. At first I thought the answer to their question had to be the experience I had in a Bolivian desert: setting fire to my hand and then my tent while still in my sleeping bag – then knocking over a full bottle of fuel to really get that blaze going. That was intense. Then I realised that, for intensity, I couldn’t go past nearly drowning in a glacier-fed Alaskan river that was busy freezing over.

A young inexperienced American called Troy and I had flown with a kayak into the remote Chigmit Mountains too late in autumn, when it was so cold the glaciers feeding our watercourse were only giving off a shallow trickle. We tore gaping holes in the kayak scraping to a halt on the constant gravel bars. Then Troy broke both our paddles trying to push us off the bars. Then, when the river finally got deeper and faster, we shot into some tree branches and capsized. In the 3-degree water I went into shock, my feet got stuck in the kayak and my head was forced under.

I digress. These memories have reminded me of not only how intensely alive a brush with death can make a person feel, but also a broader, parallel irony I discovered on my journey: that the passionate high road of our greatest desires runs close by the forest of our worst fears.

At 25, with a mind filled with dreams and post-Catholic sexual hang-ups, I had left my wise and beautiful love of seven years, Penny – along with a promising career in journalism – for a limitless global journey I’d imagined since childhood. I was also leaving behind a recent and unpalatable diagnosis, of obsessive compulsive disorder, and an unfinished course of therapy for it.

Very soon I’d got myself into some interesting pickles, such as a three-week compulsive nightmare involving Los Angeles, my terror of Alaska killing me, and many, MANY sleeping bags. Then there was the climb into Arctic mountains I undertook in November with almost no relevant experience. The cold was so intense it snap-froze the drips from my constantly dripping nose. To get food into my mouth I had to break foot-long stalactites from my nostrils.

I thought I was moving towards what I wanted – wider experience of love and women, a richer entry into life, and the mental cure I thought I could find for myself. And it was an astonishing journey, filled with wonders, intensities and joy — but also longing and illness. Two thirds of the way around the world, as I fell victim to another OCD attack in Zimbabwe, I saw in a moment that in some of the deepest ways I’d been heading far from where I’d thought I was going. I’d been risking madness but not health. I’d been risking death in a kayak and a Bolivian desert but not life with a woman I couldn’t stop loving.

I can’t give away how it all panned out for me; but death, life, and risk bring me back to that Alaskan river.

As Adrenalin finally kicked in, I wrenched my legs out of the kayak. Troy and I hauled ourselves out of the water and lay on top of the upturned kayak as it began to pick up speed. True, we still had problems. And we were heading towards more – like a white, frothing rapid just downriver – but that’s another story, another brush with death. For the moment, we were alive, and we knew it in every nerve.

Praise for Exposure

‘An extraordinary story . . . wry, honest, amusing and evocative.’ Eva Hornung

‘A striking and substantial book, at once compelling, scary, delightfully comic and moving.’ Tom Shapcott

September Book Giveaway


Let this month’s prize pack take you on an unforgettable journey – globe-trot with Joel Magarey, get lost among the desert elephants of Namibia, pig out in northern Spain. Relax and soak in William McInnes’ reflections on his father, and unleash your inner-child with the hottest children’s releases. The pack includes:

A Man’s Got To Have A Hobby by William McInnes SIGNED

Ivory Moon by Sally Henderson

Exposure: A Journey by Joel Magarey

Everything But The Squeal by John Barlow

Schooling Around: Robot Riot! by Andy Griffiths

Looking For Flavour by Barbara Santich

It’s Yr Life by Tempany Deckert & Tristan Bancks

Gone by Michael Grant

The Greatest Blogger In The World by Andrew McDonald

To go into the draw to win these books, just complete the entry form here. Entries close September 30, 2009.

Ivory Moon
Everything But The Squeal


When you join our Facebook Group, not only do you become a part of one of Australia’s fastest growing online book groups, you also go into the draw to win prizes! This month, one lucky member will win a pack that includes:

The Pheonix Files: Arrival by Chris Morphew

Brainjack by Brian Falkner

Big Stories From Little Lunch by Danny Katz, illustrated by Mitch Vane

Scatterheart by Lili Wilkinson

Allie McGregor’s True Colours by Sue Lawson

Tales From The Labyrinth/The Stone Ladder by Peter Lloyd

Jetty Road by Cath Kenneally

Chinese Cinderella: The Mystery of the Song Dynasty Painting

Big Stories From Little Lunch


Allie McGregor's True Colours

Tales from the Labyrinth / The Stone Ladder

A big thanks to our friends at Allen and Unwin, Black Dog Books, Hachette, Hardie Grant Egmont, Pan Macmillan, Random House, Wakefield Press and Walker Books for supporting our giveaways this month.