Lucien Gracq, the hero of Brian Castro’s verse novel Blindness and Rage, wishes to be a writer, though he has written only love letters to women, which achieved tragicomic results, or none at all. When Gracq retires from his job as a town planner in Adelaide, it seems he will have the time and freedom to write the epic he has dreamed of, but he is diagnos ...
Patrick Holland’s Navigatio tells the story of Saint Brendan, a monk in early-Christian Ireland who embarks on a sea-bound pilgrimage. The religious nature of this premise offers Holland a degree of freedom from historical realism, and the oceanic regions explored by Brendan are thereby conceived as a realm of mythic and apocalyptic imagination. Brendan’s own pious heroism appears to be modelled on figures of classical mythology, as well as on the invincible heroes of Christian epic literature. The perils he faces are a fascinating blend of pagan and Christian lore, combined with a blurring of dream and reality that is facilitated through Holland’s distinctive style.
Félix Calvino’s short novel tells the story of a young man who moves to Australia to escape Franco’s Spain.The strange thing about the book (given that its author has spent so long in Australia) is how unlike contemporary Australian literature it is. David Malouf has championed Calvino, but then there has always been something essentially Mediterranean about the author of Ransom. Flaubert was uncompromising in his belief that the author’s opinions and even ideas should remain absent from a work of literary art. If the French master thought the novel of ideas was a degraded thing, what would he have thought of the Australian ‘novel of issues’, the books (we all know them) that might have been written off the back of an episode of Q&A. Alfonso bolsters no Australian cultural myths, nor does it succumb to the equally tiresome genre that is ‘myth debunking’.
he Darkest Little Room, Patrick Holland’s latest novel, looks at sexual slavery and obsession in South-East Asia. The protagonist is Joseph, an Australian reporter travelling in Vietnam. Intent on finding a beautiful woman glimpsed briefly, he receives word that she may be working in a brothel known as ‘the darkest little room’. In pursuing this lead, Joseph meets and falls in love with a prostitute named Thuy. Attracted to her because she is ‘weak’ and ‘beautiful’, he wants to save her from her sordid way of life. Then Joseph starts purchasing heroin for Thuy. His morals are challenged and his life endangered.
Patrick Holland makes his plans clear in the first sentence of Riding the Trains in Japan (his fourth book and first work of non-fiction): ‘I arrived in Kyoto in the middle of the national holiday called O-Bon, the Japanese All Souls, when Buddhists believe departed spirits may return to earth and when ancestors and the elderly are honoured.’ His subjects and themes have been identified: himself, the people and places of Asia, Eastern spirituality and tradition, and the transient nature of life and all of its cultural accessories. The opening also reveals Holland’s technical approach: a willingness to conflate personal anecdote with documentary observation, the minutiae of daily life with the grandness of tradition, and the material world with a spiritual one. Clearly, he wants to test the conventional form of travel writing.