Allen & Unwin, $39.99 hb, 464 pp, 9781742378510
Not since Marguerite Yourcenar’s classic Memoirs of Hadrian (1951) have I encountered a novel of such bravura intensity and insight into the jagged contours of the human heart.
Autumn Laing opens with a mercurial soliloquy. Over eighteen shimmering pages, the novel’s eponymous heroine draws scarcely a breath as, in a soul-scouring torrent, spanning a lifetime while skewering the moment, she conjures the characters who are ‘seething in her brain’. Autumn parades her dramatis personae of lovers and artists, loathed family, and beloved friends. She struts her many selves: Cleopatra and crone, artist’s muse and scourge, Sybil and hysteric, moral vagabond and seeker after redemption. Haunted by her own mortality and resurgent remorse, she brandishes Tennyson: Let me shrive me clean, and die.