Nuns in Jeopardy
Penguin, $6.95 pb, 215 pp
It is astonishing how many major works of Australian fiction – and often major works in themselves – are out of print at any given time. Angus and Robertson and Penguin, occasionally assisted by smaller firms like the specialist feminist press Virago and the university presses, have done fine work in drawing attention to novels and writers undeservedly out of print. One writer who seemed out of fashion for a time but whom Penguin are systematically bringing back into print is Martin Boyd. The latest is their series of reissues of his work is a relatively little known and lightweight novel with the misleadingly enticing title of Nuns in Jeopardy (first published in 1940).
This strange parable by Boyd wanders uncertainly among a number of modes before losing direction altogether. A ship called the Princess of Teck sinks and all on board are lost except for the occupants of the one boat of four which escapes the disaster. In it are: two officers, Joe and Dick; three sailors, Harry, George, and Tom; Mrs Dawes and her young daughter Marinella; six nuns; and the mysterious Mr Smith who suddenly appears out of the water. (Oddly, the book seems to think that there are thirteen people on board, though Mrs Dawes soon kills herself, crazed with grief at the loss of her husband.)