by Laurie Clancy
A&R, $19.95, 283 p
Xavier Herbert is probably the most enigmatic of Australian writers, but there is nothing enigmatic about Laurie Clancy’s treatment of the man and his works in Twayne’s World Authors Series. This is the best assessment of Herbert since Vincent Buckley’s article ‘Capricornia’ (Meanjin, 19, 1960) forced critics to take Herbert seriously as a writer of stature and an experimentalist with the form of the novel, and since Harry Heseltine’s Xavier Herbert (OUP, 1973) drew attention to what Heseltine saw as the ‘deep motive’ of Herbert’s writing in the works that preceded Poor Fellow My Country.
Clancy’s book will be valuable to the student of Herbert and also to the newcomer to his works; it may be used mainly by Australian readers, but it should also help to change that situation which Clancy rightly refers to as ‘Herbert’s relative obscurity overseas’. The book is well written; Clancy’s critical judgements are unequivocal and, I believe, basically sound. That last statement will provoke dissent.