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The Airways

PICADOR Australia — August 2021



I had a body once before. I didn’t always love it. I knew the skin as my limit, and there were times I longed to leave it.

I knew better than to wish for this.

This is the story of Yun. It’s the story of Adam.
Two young people. A familiar chase.

But this is not a love story.
It’s a story of revenge, transformation, survival.

Feel something, the body commands. Feel this.
But it’s a phantom . . . I go untouched.

They want their body back.

Who are we, if we lose hold of the body?
What might we become?

The Airways shifts between Sydney and Beijing, unsettling the boundaries of gender and power, consent and rage, self and other, and even life and death.

A powerful, inventive, and immersive novel from award-winning author Jennifer Mills.

BUY THE AIRWAYS online or from your local independent bookshop

Gender is a kind of haunting: Jennifer Mills explores the queer potential of the ghost story in The Airways

– Interview in The Guardian


Sensational. The Airways is an intricate, existential wonder — Mills’ ability to inhabit boundlessness is astonishing. A deeply empathetic genius flows through these pages.

– Josephine Rowe

A haunting and intimate examination of violence, alienation and dislocation, and the need to reckon with the past. The Airways is a masterful novel: Mills writes prose of rare distinction.

– Julie Koh

Mills’s detailing of physical sensations, the complex “gifts” of embodiment is expansive and wonderfully imaginative, and it is full of empathy and joy.

There’s so much in The Airways that is fascinating and arresting, especially because Mills refuses to simplify or smooth out complex issues and perspectives. The shifts in Adam’s consciousness, his growing confusion and disorientation are subtly and intricately traced; so too are the exquisitely awkward moments of irony and clarity provided to the reader intermittently.

…[The Airways is] a deeply empathic and vivacious book, and one that revels in the “consciousness of the body” and how it feels to be alive.

The Guardian

This immersive narrative shimmers with energy… Mills offers deeply humane perspectives into other lives. These insights, which resemble a supernatural version of the reading experience, move from the impressionistic to the lyrical…

In this haunted puzzle of a novel, Mills interrogates the nature of memory, reality, life, and death. She explores questions of consciousness, identity, and the relationship between the self and the body, and studies the spaces where different, sometimes opposing, things bleed into each other. Mills also unpacks the impact of alienation and dislocation, the morality of observation, and the desire to be truly seen and recognised.

In this provocative novel, in which Mills explores the liminal spaces where one thing blurs into another, one constant is a sense of wonder at life and the human body. The Airways may orbit the aftermath of brutal death, but this is a novel that also embraces elements of ‘body wonder’, as opposed to the more familiar body horror. In a 2012 blog post on her website, Mills wrote that she loved fiction ‘for its metamorphic power’. The Airways offers a moving, disorientating, and sometimes extraordinary, demonstration of that power.

Australian Book Review

What excites me about The Airways, then, is precisely its commitment to depicting ambiguity and ghostliness. By adhering to ambiguity, never bailing to absolutes or distinction, Mills creates space to think about bodies and identity, plurally. This is a ghost story, and a haunting one, but the three functions of self, the physical body, the consciousness, the social relational experience, are separate narratives that are unceasingly acting upon each other. While the narrative jumps to different times, cities, states of being and narrative form, each is never wholly separate. The writing haunts itself…

Queer literature like this lives because it enters a bloodstream. It is picked up and carried and understood in the body. It doesn’t have to be explicit or educate. It shirks this responsibility…

What Mills has achieved isn’t just an experiment with genre, a new kind of thriller within a body. She has made work which embraces the multiplicity of this mode of writing about ‘bodies’.

Sydney Review of Books

At once a mystery, a psychological thriller, and a Gothic romance, The Airways is an exquisitely ambiguous novel, one constructed on a series of oppositions – shadows and light, guilt and innocence, body and spirit, life and death – that Mills refuses to resolve.

There is a sharp-edged lyricism to her writing, images shrewdly chosen. And her sensitivity to the acute commotion of perception, the fierce corporeality of being, is striking…

Mills continues to cement her place as one of Australia’s most compelling and daring novelists.

The Australian

This is a hugely original exploration of the banality of violence, its unremarkable perpetrators—and its hold on those violated, both living and dead. ‘So many people are like this,’ says Mills’ narrator, ‘carrying around their private violence, their body’s understanding with the world.’

Reading, rereading, and untangling The Airways’ strange pursuit is a deeply rewarding journey.

Newtown Review of Books

Mills’ skilful writing is disturbing in its execution, rooted firmly in the physicality of her characters’ worlds… Stunning prose carries the reader…

The Airways is a literary puzzle intent on solving itself. If you feel disoriented reading this book, don’t fight your confusion. Surrender to the journey, like a passenger on a train. Revel in the thinning of reality’s membrane.

Arts Hub

Jennifer Mills’s The Airways unsettles the boundaries between consciousness, self and the physical world, deep-diving into the parallels between the workings of the human body and the cities we navigate… Questions of consent and bodily autonomy lurk throughout the narrative.

Mesmerising… [a] bravely experimental novel of breakdown and revenge.

– Books+Publishing

Intelligent and poetic… It is rare to find a novel so adept at diving into the breath, flesh and capillaries as this… A delight to read – it is fiction being pushed into the crevices of flesh to expose the fault lines.

The Airways is a challenging, ambitious read, with moments of both quiet contemplation and furious provocation… it is no doubt a book that will do as it intends: ignite conversations about gender, power and consent.

The Monthly

The Airways explores what it is to inhabit a body, in both a physical and a social sense. What kind of visibility, vulnerability and social power do different bodies confer? … Jennifer Mills is an exceptional craftsperson, and there is much in this novel to admire.


Jennifer Mills is well known for experimenting with various writing styles, challenging the perceived boundaries and constructs of the novel… Her new novel, The Airways, is possibly her most ambitious to date.

Within seconds of beginning The Airways I became acutely aware of my body in a way I haven’t been since I trained as a classical ballerina: my heart rate, my breath, the twitching in my calf muscle, the pulse of blood behind my crossed knee. The prose is steeped in evocative descriptions of the body and its inner mechanics, thoughts and feelings… A bold literary offering.

Readings Books