Over the top

Politics, social authenticity, and melodrama in the style of 'Gone With the Wind'
by
August 1991, no. 133

Tandia by Bryce Courtenay

WHA, 900 pp, $34.95 hb

Over the top

Politics, social authenticity, and melodrama in the style of 'Gone With the Wind'
by
August 1991, no. 133

After all the acrimony and gossip generated by the success of Bryce Courtenay, it is surprising to discover that the advertising director and newspaper columnist is a talented writer.

In his second blockbuster, Tandia, Courtenay reveals a nineteenth-century novelist’s ability to paint the large picture, to describe the community as a whole, and to focus within this overall perspective on the minute details of everyday experience. Linking these perspectives is a firm hold on larger-than-life characters. The heroine Tandia, the hero Peekay, the secondary figures such as Mama Tequila the brothel owner, or E.W. the Oxford don – all are both clichéd and persuasive at the same time. This is because they belong to a fictional club reaching back to Dickens – a world in which narrative pronouncement on social problems is achieved through the emphasis on a single signifier of appearance or behaviour. Tandia’s supernatural beauty, Mama Tequila’s capacious figure, E.W.’s pipe – these are enough to relay the values they represent: the sexually victimised innocent visionary, the shrewd, generous, but fated mother-figure, the liberal mentor. But it is from an underlying narrative level of pictorial detail that the real reading pleasure is derived. Courtenay’s writing strengths are with the vignette – his finely toned and intricate pictures of the everyday, rather than the heroic, overblown moment. For example:

Fiona Giles reviews 'Tandia' by Bryce Courtenay

Tandia

by Bryce Courtenay

WHA, 900 pp, $34.95 hb

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