Do not attempt to judge this book by its amazingly beautiful but iconographically confusing cover. A close-up photograph of a single leaf shows its veins and pores in tiny detail. The colours are the most pastel and tender of creamy greens. Superimposed over this lush and suggestively fertile image is the book’s one-word title: Drylands.
I love Thea Astley’s writing and always have. I love its densely woven grammar, its ingrained humour, its uncompromising politics, its demented metaphors, and its undimmed outrage at human folly, stupidity, and greed. I love the way that even at its most savage and despairing it has always had a suggestion of redemptive energy working away somewhere in the plot, no matter how subterranean, outmanoeuvred, or comprehensively beaten down.
Her new book has all these qualities except, alas, the last. Drylands is Astley’s Waste Land, with a cast of exhausted and alienated characters wandering through it in the deathgrip of entropy, pursued by fin de siècle furies and other personifications of failure and defeat. In the small town of Drylands, there are no fragments shored against anybody’s ruin (well, there are, but even the fragments get vandalised and tossed), and there is certainly none of the peace that passeth understanding.