The Service of Clouds
Picador, $16.95 pb, 322 pp, 0 330 36027 2
Early on in her long and billowing narrative, Eureka Jones makes a promise to us:
Listen, I will make the clouds rain stories for you ... I will try to revive for you this time of liquid possibility when the valleys were brimful with our love of elsewhere, a love stronger than any atmospheric process, a love which turned the mountains sapphire blue.
This novel, Delia Falconer’s first, takes the form of a love lament: all about breath in bodies; textures and surfaces; clouds; mountains; photography; colour; gardens; illness. Much more, too, of course, and it is a work that certainly does not warrant such a glib cataloguing of elements and attributes. It is ambitious, and successful.
The clouds stand in for much: they are there, so close, our reading heads surrounded by them, lodged there in that pillowy space. We are high up, in the midst of mountains. Cumulus. Cirrus. Stratus. The clouds in service, attending to the forms of desire; providing more, too, a more physical effect, like this: ‘We marvelled at the beneficence of clouds. They would encourage us to eat and sleep ... soak into the pores of our skin, improving its texture and the quality of our blood.’ From the Blue Mountains setting, the village of Katoomba, Eureka Jones offers, for a whole range of listeners, retrospective tellings of the fate of love and the establishment and changes in a community. The period of her reminiscence is 1907 to 1926: starting with the closure of the hydropathic institute in the Hydro Majestic Hotel and ending with a ship’s journey. But it is to diminish the novel to try and pin down any chronology, any trajectory of action or development. It is more accurate to speak of its movement forward as holding and capturing recoveries - recuperations from consumption, from physical ailments and from broken hearts. The heart and lungs are intimately connected.