Writer re­born in an in­spi­ra­tional

Re­becca Star­ford

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books -

THE Spruiker’s Tale , Cather­ine Rey’s first novel trans­lated into English in 2005, was hi­lar­i­ous and ghastly. A far­ci­cal gothic west­ern, it is in the same odd tenor as the Aus­tralian ro­coco fan­tasies of An­drew Lind­say’s The Slap­ping Man and The Pa­tron Saint of Eels by Gre­gory Day.

The Spruiker’s Tale took read­ers on a grim ex­pe­di­tion through the Na­galingams, a fam­ily of for­mer cir­cus per­form­ers liv­ing in a shack on the edge of the Gib­son Desert. In a strange lex­i­con that in­cor­po­rated the mock grandeur of Ra­belais, the dogma of the Old Tes­ta­ment and a sprin­kling of good old ock­erism, it was a novel of seething Oedi­pal ten­sion and droll grotes­query. This por­trait of an amoral world cat­a­pulted Cather­ine Rey on to the Aus­tralian lit­er­ary scene.

Step­ping Out is a vastly dif­fer­ent cre­ation, in nar­ra­tive, tone and style. Sub­ti­tled A Novel , the ficto-au­to­bi­og­ra­phy is an ode, of sorts, to Rey’s youth in France, her es­cape from the sti­fling con­fines of her fam­ily and her bur­geon­ing pas­sion for lit­er­a­ture and writ­ing.

From in­fancy, Cather­ine is raised by her pa­ter­nal grand­par­ents. At 17, she runs away from home to be with her lover, the older, mar­ried Marco. A few years later, when Marco’s di­vorce comes through, the cou­ple marry.

We never learn much about Marco, a house painter, ex­cept that he has old-fash­ioned ex­pec­ta­tions of a wife ( it is the 1970s). He likes a clean house and his din­ner cooked for him. Ini­tially, Cather­ine com­plies with th­ese do­mes­tic re­quire­ments. Marco shows lit­tle in­ter­est in her writ­ing; she doesn’t want to talk about it with him. They are, Rey as­sures us, madly in love.

There is an over­all sad­ness in­grained in this story, a quiet, re­signed sense of re­gret. Cather­ine

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