The Glade Within the Grove
Penguin Random House Australia, $19.95 pb, 430 pp, 0 09 183213 6
This amazing novel comes in two parts, a 431-page prose Saga, and a 123 page verse Ballad. The whole is held together by a Narrator, who tells the Saga as a gloss on the Ballad, which he found in an old bike shed in an abandoned mailbag. The ballad was written by Orion the Poet, a young man called Timothy Papadirnitriou. The Narrator is a retired postman, D’Arcy D’Oliveres; readers of David Foster’s Dog Rock novels will remember him well. Throughout this book he is dying of lung cancer, albeit with undiminished humour and liveliness of mind, and he goes off at the end babbling splendidly of a lot more than green fields. E. Annie Proulx, an enthusiast for this book, describes D’Arcy as ‘One of the great comic figures of twentieth century literature’.
Like most autodidacts, D’ Arey loves to show off his learning; like some, he is more interesting than a lot of trained scholars, because of his ironic sense of humour and his freedom from the world of the syllabus. In the flashes sparking from the gems of his random learning, D’ Arey himself is reminiscent of two writers apparently not represented in his library, Sir Thomas Browne and Robert Burton, of The Anatomy of Melancholy.
Freedom is one of the great themes of the book, the action of which is set at the end of the 1960s, when Western youth made a great bid for all sorts of moral, physical, and spiritual freedoms, upholding which brought them into fierce conflict with the infamy of the Vietnam War.