Dark Palace by Frank Moorhouse
Knopf, $39.95 hb, 678 pp, 0 091 83676 X
Relations between the public arena and the private are what the novel is all about. This loose, generous prose form was developed in early-modern Europe to enable a vigorous bourgeois imagination to ask the question: what is public, in fact, and what is private. If this could no longer be determined by titles and duties, properties and subservience, countesses and clowns, a kind of unrolling narrative had to evolve which was capable of asking all the psycho-political questions. And the genre has come a long way, has taken on many forms, along with many fields of information. Modern fiction is full of frisky factions.
To nobody could these reflections be more appropriate than to Frank Moorhouse. From his early chain of stories, The Americans, Baby, he has been asking awkward questions about the raw, chafed edge of public and intimate, in a shallowly modem world which calls for deep enquiry. A story like ‘Del Goes into Politics’ brings together the angry political divisions of the 1970s with a young woman’s coarsely sexual awakening. What is more, he has long been able to write un-sensationally about bisexual characters: about the secret world of the senses, to use a phrase which touches upon his Everlasting Secret Family.
From early on, Moorhouse chose to adopt a very plain prose style. He took on board the very dangerous influence of Hemingway and other American plainsmen, at best to good effect. His uninflected prose has proved to be a way of coping with the postmodern and Vietnam War years, since it can register the near-meaninglessness of daily juxtapositions; it can set the far beside the near, the political alongside the genital. It can also come up with stark near-sentences like, ‘The urge to fall into the black abyss’ or ‘But not glamorous’.