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Strangely Powerful Victims

November 2001, no. 236

The Black Butterfly by Kathleen Stewart

Allen & Unwin, $19.95 pb, 248 pp

Strangely Powerful Victims

November 2001, no. 236

When you think about it, public swimming pools are strange places. Semi-naked bodies saunter about, while others battle against gravity in speed-designated lanes. Perhaps it is no surprise that these sites of aqua profonda dominate recent fiction. Whether the pools are in Paris or Fitzroy, they act as metaphors for the human condition.

In Kathleen Stewart’s new novel, The Black Butterfly, a burnt-out former starlet obsessively returns to a swimming pool, in the hope of seeing a man who hates her. It’s all here, at the swimming pool, the ex-actress, Julia Callaghan thinks: ‘Life and Death. People oiling their bodies like machines of war.’

At twenty-nine, Julia is a failure in a society that values success above everything else. She starred in a hit film immediately after graduating from drama school, and then nothing. No offers followed, and her career stalled. Julia is a mysterious character, even though we see events from her perspective. The Black Butterfly is made up of short vignettes and chapters. Despite Julia’s constant presence, she is as fragmented as the text.

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