Kerryn Goldsworthy reviews 'Dreams of Speaking' by Gail Jones

Kerryn Goldsworthy reviews 'Dreams of Speaking' by Gail Jones

Dreams of Speaking

by Gail Jones

Vintage, $32.95 pb, 240 pp, 1741665221

If you can say immediately what you think a novel is ‘about’, then the chances are that it may not be a very good novel. Fiction as a genre gives writers and readers imaginative room to move, to work on a vertical axis of layers of meaning as well as along the horizontal forward movement of narrative development.

But when hesitating over the question ‘what is this novel about?’, one good way to cut through the hesitation is to think what, if you were a designer, you would put on the cover, disregarding issues of marketability and thinking, for the moment, strictly about meaning. For me, the ideal cover of Dreams of Speaking would show a photograph or drawing of a traditional raked Japanese garden. When Mr Sakamoto, one of this book’s two main characters, is explaining to Alice, the other, about the way that a telephone works, he remarks: ‘It’s about ripples in the air, patterns of ripples, as in a Japanese raked garden … [which] always looks to me like an image of sound waves. Gardens, ocean, the beauty of energy transmission.’

One of the many things going on in this image, in this conversation, and indeed throughout the whole novel, is the reconciliation between a number of pairs more usually thought of as oppositional or dichotomous: machines and aesthetics, science and magic, modernity and timelessness, west and east, and, as Mr Sakamoto puts it, ‘nuance and eternity … the two dimensions of haiku’.

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Published in February 2006, no. 278
Kerryn Goldsworthy

Kerryn Goldsworthy

Kerryn Goldsworthy won the 2013 Pascall Prize for cultural criticism, and the 2017 Horne Prize for her essay ‘The Limit of the World’. A former Editor of ABR (1986–87), she is one of Australia’s most prolific and respected literary critics. Her publications include several anthologies, a critical study of Helen Garner, and her book Adelaide, which was shortlisted for a Victorian Premier’s Literary Award. In November 2012 she was named as the inaugural ABR Ian Potter Foundation Fellow. Her Fellowship article on reviewing, ‘Everyone’s a Critic’, appeared in the May 2013 issue of ABR.

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