The Best Picture
McPhee Gribble, 334 pp, $34.99 hb
Barry Hill, who is among a few Australians who write from the head as well as from the emotions, sets his latest novel in a Buddhist Teaching Centre in a Queensland forest. Not so deep in the forest that the glorious coast itself cannot be seen, a fact that causes young Mark, who has just learned that his girlfriend Robin is pregnant, to remind himself that (as he gazes at the breakers hurling themselves into spray one hundred kilometres away) he may never surf again: paternal responsibility implying no more surfing. The reader may feel that as Robin is only thirteen years old the partnership, even if she has the baby, may be over in plenty of time for Mark to have a few good surfs before his muscles collapse.
This Centre is run by an amiable elderly Tibetan mystagogue named Geshe-la. Run is not exactly the word; he simply appears from time to time, answers questions through a translator, lives rather remotely from the rest of the settlement but goes on a picnic to the fair at the nearest township just like everybody else.