The explosion that left Adam teetering on the edge of death is clouded in ambiguity. We are never told about it. All we know is that is has changed Adam’s life forever. If there were even a sliver of a doubt as to whether he has become a physical monstrosity, it is dispelled by the look of horror and shock on his wife’s face, that she fails to hide in time, upon their first meeting back from the war. Australia, instead of working on ways to prevent and stay free from these conflicts uses its military budget, power, scientists, and technology, to build a bionic exoskeleton. Adam is the lucky one to first try out this prototype. Does he feel lucky? The tech tells his wife, “He’ll be helping science by trying it out”. Comforting words for a shell of a man.
Adam and Bridget are both young and their rushed marriage has never been solid. They were divorced in everything except the eyes of the law. Bridget had seen other men, however, remained living in their house while Adam was in Iraq. When she heard of Adam’s maiming and return, she already has her bags packed. Secretly she is wracked with guilt but for who Adam or herself?
Marianna is sitting at a restaurant, pondering a secret she keeps deep within herself. A secret that she desperately wants to expose, to purge. She met Manfred at her studio, where she worked as a ballroom dancing instructor, when one day he simply burst in, his only excuse for the rude interruption, that he was being followed. Marianna knows what she is getting into when she signs Manfred up for lessons.
“ He was busy, busy as busy Manfred – busy keeping out of sight of the authorities, by disappearing into her life. “
He promises to fix up the accounts for the studio and they are quickly married. However, after they are married, his behaviour becomes more blatantly secretive. He throws away a computer but not before copying something to a USB stick. He throws away his mobile phone. By the time she finds out the truth about her husband, it is already too late. She is in so deep, the water has covered her head.
John Philip was born a Hardingham. This meant that his destiny was assured, he, by birth was destined for great things. The Hardingham’s are almost what you would call royalty. Through the generations John’s ancestors have held mayoral, parliamentary, ecclesiastical positions, and yet John has reached the age of sixty-seven and achieved little. With no threats to his way of life, his aspirations have never risen to drive him to the heights expected by the family. However, at sixty-eight things are about to change. After his birthday he finds out that his great-granduncle has left him a sealed package as his legacy. A legacy which could be more than a thorn in the side of the family name he has come to despise.
Despite the Marianna and John Philip narratives, the major narrative belongs to Adam and Bridget. Their chapters alternate between their perspective and thoughts. Adam is coming to terms with how great a change his physical condition is having on both their lives. He explores, searching for information. Information on the international legality of the invasion of Iraq, why Australia joined the coalition? He also explores language, the meaning of words, where they originated from, he starts to read the Bible. It’s almost as if his mental condition has grown in use to compensate for his lost physical condition. Bridget could be described as a soul in turmoil. She teeters back and forth from loathing herself for wishing to leave Adam, and admiration, and empathy for his situation that she paradoxically wants to help with. She vacillates between staying and leaving. The irony is that had Adam returned unharmed they would have now been divorced. It is the horrific injury that has tethered them together again.
I can see why Rodney Hall has won the Miles Franklin Award twice before. His writing is beautiful and at times descriptive and poetic. He uses this style to vividly describe the pain, mental and physical that Adam is going through splendidly and at times feels a little too real.
I wanted to give this a 4.5, but the other two narratives, while being extremely entertaining in their own right, feel like short stories that have a vague tenuous connection to the main plot. I thought perhaps with the title of the book. the connection may be that they all have had something stolen from their lives. Adam has lost his body and perhaps Bridgette. Marianna has lost her old life and freedom on the run from the law, and John Philip lost his childhood, never living up to the impossibly high standards of the family. Also there is some crossover of characters.
I think my favourite part of this novel is Hall’s writing, it’s flawless and the pages just seem to fly by. I have a strong feeling this will make the shortlist. 4 Stars.
Taken from ANZ Litlovers Litlog
Rodney Hall is the acclaimed author of eleven novels including two Miles Franklin winning titles, Just Relations (1982) and The The Grisly Wife (1993); 14 books of poetry, four non-fiction titles, a memoir and a new book called Silence which is a collection of fiction writings in homage to his favourite writers. (I’ve only browsed a couple of these so far, but enough to be intrigued. You can read reviews – by Stella Clarke here and James Ley’s here.) Hall’s work is published internationally in the US, UK and elsewhere, and is widely translated around the world into German, French, Danish, Swedish, Dutch, Norwegian, Spanish, Portuguese and Korean. (In fact I first heard him speak f2f at a forum on translation here in Melbourne; he speaks very highly of the unsung work of translators.)
Just Relations and The The Grisly Wife are out-of-print, I think, but thanks to Abe Books I’ve been able to source first editions of both of them and they are patiently waiting their turn on my Miles Franklin winners shelf. (I’m reading the ones that I own in chronological order and there are eight ahead of Just Relations. The Irishman by Elizabeth O’Conner is next but I keep getting distracted by other things!)
But I have read and enjoyed two of Hall’s more recent novels The Day We Had Hitler Home which was short-listed for the Miles Franklin in 2001 (read a review here), and Love without Hope, which was shortlisted in 2008 and also won the ALS ( Australian Literature Society) Gold Medal. (It’s a wonderful book with one of the most memorable female characters that I know. Read a review here). I’m still hoping to chase up copies of The Second Bridegroom which also won the ALS medal in 1992 and Captivity Captive which won The Vance Palmer Prize for Fiction in 1989. And as you know if you read my review I was utterly captivated by his memoir of his childhood in rural England during the war, entitled Popeye Never Told You: Childhood Memories of the War. (You can listen to Rodney Hall talking about this book with Richard Aedy at ABC Radio National’s Life Matter’s website).
So yes, I am a fan, and so I was delighted to meet Rodney Hall in person at a Wheeler Centre event last year. He is one of the nicest writers around, and so it gives me great pleasure to feature him in my Meet an Aussie Author series.
1. I was born in England at Solihull, Warwickshire (between Birmingham and Stratford). We arrived in Australia when I was 13. All through my childhood this had been the plan. My mother’s determination to return here (her family had had a farm in Kangaroo Valley before the war) was always a powerful factor. Even before arriving in Australia it was already my magic land all through the bombing: Kangaroo Valley was the place I imagined escaping to. All but two of my novels are about understanding Australia and Australian history . . . absorbing and embracing this as home.
2. When I was a child I wrote almost nothing. The subjects I was good at were maths and art.
3. I left school at 16. That’s when I met John Manifold and his wife Kate. Really their encouragement was the beginning of my writing ambitions. I went to their house on the outskirts of Brisbane, armed with my clarinet, to make music. The moment I stepped into that house I knew my life had changed forever. Manifold was an accomplished musician—he introduced me to baroque music, for a start—but he was principally a poet and essayist.
4. I write at a stand up desk.
5. Generally I write in the mornings or late at night. I find my ideas in society and social values, in issues that may arise locally but have wider and deeper implications. I always conceive of my characters in social situations. It’s the interconnections and interactions between people that fascinate me.
6. Research is a minor part of what I do. I work in the imagination and very seldom need to look things up. Realism doesn’t interest me. Nor does non-fiction.
7. My published work belongs on the shelf among books by other writers.
8. On the day my first book was published and for many days after that I carried a copy everywhere with me, but I never saw one in the shops.
9. At the moment I’m writing two new books, but I never talk about work in progress. My most recent publication is a collection of 29 short prose fictions called Silence (published by Pier 9). These were accumulated over a period of eight years. I wrote individual pieces while engaged on other book projects (Love Without Hope and Popeye never told you). In fact there were 50 of them when I finally called a halt in 2010. I then had the enjoyable task of crafting the sequence—teasing out connections and echoes—and reducing , reducing, reducing till the collection came together as a coherent unit. This coherence is one of ‘feel’ rather than rigid structuring. The decision to settle for two sequences of 14 pieces each with one central piece (about God) only came to me right at the last minute, really.
10. I always have at least two current projects, so I’m never stuck—I just switch between them according to my mood.
I think it’s because Rodney Hall is inspired by ‘society and social values, in issues that may arise locally but have wider and deeper implications’ that I find his books so satisfying. I like his preoccupation with the individual standing up for him/herself against seemingly insurmountable odds, and I like his adventurous writing style.
Thanks, Rodney, for participating in Meet an Aussie Author!