That Eye The Sky
McPhee Gribble, 150 pp, $14.95 pb, 086914 0302
This book is about a twelve-year-old boy called Ort Flack, into whose life, at a moment of drastic need, bursts none other than God, in the form of a silvery white cloud. The cloud has been there all along, hanging over the house, a personal vision of Ort’s, as mysterious and troubling and comforting to him as certain other strange things that he alone notices – the way the contents of his mother’s kitchen jars turn into jewels, and the bell that he hears ringing in the forest outside the house – bong, it goes, bong. But God, as a cloud? This is not your ordinary Australian realism! Whatever our attitudes might be towards this God business, whether or not we acknowledge the existence of Mighty Forces, we can’t fail to be struck by the originality, the skill, the nerve of this novel.
It flaunts its Southern US influences. Flannery O’Connor is in there, gliding from tree to tree just outside our field of vision. But it’s thoroughly Australian in idiom and setting.
Ort (short for Morton: ‘Ort is also a name for bum in our family’) tells his story in the present tense, first person, urgently, clumsily, just as it happens – no emotion recollected in tranquillity, but all in the heat of the moment, slangy and ignorant, full of anxiety and dogged hope.