Thea Astley’s first novel, Girl with A Monkey (1958), signalled the arrival of a writer with a distinctive style. Astley believes that Angus and Robertson accepted the book, although it would not be a money-spinner like the work of their bestsellers, Frank Clune and Ion Idriess, because their editor Beatrice Davis took the initiative in encouraging ‘a different form of writing from the Bulletin school’. The plain Bulletin style, a consciously shaped style representing ‘natural’ narrative, was still the norm in Australian writing in the 1950s, although that decade also saw the publication of stylistically evocative novels like Patrick White’s The Tree of Man and Voss, Hal Porter’s A Handful of Pennies, Martin Boyd’s The Cardboard Crown, A Difficult Young Man, and Outbreak of Love, and Randolph Stow’s The Merry-Go-Round in the Sea, A Haunted Land, The Bystander, and To the Islands.
The incisive edge in Astley’s style resembles the sharp edges in the style of White and Porter, but it is unique in its simultaneous appeal to and rejection of intellectual aspiration. As with the integral style of the novels just mentioned, it adds another dimension to the events and characters of the story. Style indicates the author’s apprehension of the world, not only the world created in the novel, but also the outer world in which the novel has its source.