Peter Cowan’s new novel The Color of the Sky is an elliptical, even enigmatic, narrative. Although specifically labelled a ‘novel’, it is a novella in its concision pf narrative explanation; as well as in its length. The layers of event and reminiscence are multifarious enough to fill out a hefty tome but are compressed in such a way that they become almost cryptic messages requiring considerable deciphering on the part of the reader.
If I produced the kind of summary often trotted out in reviews, it would provide a very misleading picture of what the novel is like when read. The narrator, Leon, is summoned back from a year in England to Australia, to the country house of his few remaining relatives. There he is drawn into a world that hints at drug running, at smuggling, through a woman, Annette, whose exact relationship to the household is vague. Intercut with Leon’s narrative are snatches of the life of an exploring nineteenth-century forebear, Tom. But the story is not the aim of the exercise; the snippets of information are presented in a way that suggests a puzzle, but they cannot be put together as easily as the reader, at first, imagines.