The Fern Tattoo
UQP, $32.95 pb, 388 pp
In these litigious days, should I declare a tenuous bias in favour of David Brooks (whom I know not at all)? According to an extensive list of previous publications, which includes poetry, short fiction, essays and one earlier novel, he has devoted several editorial enterprises to the poet A.D. Hope. I too admired Hope, for his passionate admiration for Russian literature, which he sometimes lectured on and which made him a complimentary examiner of my own PhD thesis. Otherwise, the slate is blank: I tried to locate Brooks’s previous novel, The House of Balthus (1995) as preparatory reading for this review, but the local library system could not help.
Opening The Fern Tattoo then without any idea of what to expect, I was somewhat disturbed by the ‘Proem’, subtitled ‘Adam and Eve’. ‘There should be a frontispiece,’ it begins, ‘“Noon in the Australian Forest”, though not the noon of the Australian poets, not the noon of Charles Harpur or Henry Kendall.’ It is the kind of throwaway that risks alienating a non-specialist reader. Then a girl is mentioned, who is thinking about another couple, whom she sees only in her mind’s eye but equates not just with Adam and Eve, but with Adam and Eve ‘as depicted by Dürer or Cranach the Elder ... Except that Adam, the first one, never wore tattoos’.