Luca Antara: Passages in search of Australia
East Street Publications, $35 pb, 277 pp, 1741750547
This novel by New Zealand-born Martin Edmond is difficult to pin down. As I read it, I wondered which genre it belongs to. The narrative moves among various genres, blurring memoir, travelogue, conventional history, reflections upon the internal journeys offered by personal reading, anthropological record, meta-textual fiction as postmodern mystery, even hoax. The unnamed narrator is a professional writer and researcher, thus suggesting an autobiographical element, and his considered reflection on the ‘Ern Malley’ hoax is perhaps the clue to the ‘fiction’ that ultimately engages him; that is, the mysterious document he receives that describes a Portuguese settlement near Darwin in the early seventeenth century.
The document comes from a Mr Henry Klang, of Melaka, a paranoid man of Portuguese descent who corresponds by e-mail with the narrator. Australia, or specifically the Kimberley, in the race memory of Portuguese colonists in Indonesia, was called ‘Luca Antara.’ What is the provenance of Klang’s story, the narrator wonders, as we ponder the status of the central story of this novel: truth or clever fiction? When the narrator finally meets Klang in Melaka, he promises to put Klang’s manuscript into his book. This is the book that we are now reading, presumably, but the narrator is now unsure of everything he has so far believed: ‘This encounter with the mercurial Mr Klang, or Carlo, or whoever he was, had a curious and unsettling effect on me. Everything started to look provisional, even, fictive.’