nor nat­u­ral

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books -

alist in­stincts that served the an­cient an­ces­tors well. Th­ese the­o­ries are un­likely to sit well with any­one bat­tling with the dis­tress of men­tal ill­ness but they do have ex­cel­lent po­ten­tial as ma­te­rial for a con­tem­po­rary psy­cho­log­i­cal thriller.

The prob­lem is that Tor­day’s novel is nei­ther psy­cho­log­i­cally res­o­nant nor thrilling. In­stead of com­mit­ting to the dra­matic de­mands of his sub­ject, he dis­si­pates most of its sus­pense from the out­set by giv­ing away Michael’s mo­ti­va­tions: we are left only to dis­cover the how, not the why, dis­mem­ber­ing fur­ther the con­ven­tional sto­ry­line tra­jec­tory for a nar­ra­tive deal­ing with his­tor­i­cal ma­te­rial.

It is a rather dis­ori­ent­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for the reader, de­lib­er­ately so, it seems.

To add fur­ther con­fu­sion to what is now a kind of nar­ra­tive soup, Boyle confounds the reader fur­ther by adding into the mix a fic­tional nar­ra­tor: the el­e­gant, sar­donic, de­light­ful Tadashi Sato, a for­mer stu­dent of Wright’s, whose voice and opin­ions are recorded in a se­ries of of his ill­ness. In ad­di­tion, Tor­day seems un­able to es­cape from the gen­tly hu­mor­ous mode of his wildly suc­cess­ful mid­dle-age change-of-life de­but novel, Sal­mon Fish­ing in the Ye­men, which won the 2007 Wode­house Prize for com­edy. ( P. G.’ s sur­name, co­in­ci­den­tally, is prob­a­bly a deriva­tion of the mythic Wood­wose.)

The Girl on the Land­ing , his third, spends most of its time in the ter­ri­tory of light ro­man­tic com­edy. El­iz­a­beth, who shares the nar­ra­tion with Michael, is a more whiny ver­sion of Brid­get Jones, with a boss from hell and a mother who falls for a con­niv­ing dog-food sales­man. She seems to re­main as­ton­ish­ingly un­con­cerned by Michael’s med­i­cal his­tory be­cause he takes her on a Ro­man mini-break. The novel also de­votes much of its length to chaffing the rule books, reso­lu­tions and golf tour­na­ments of Grouch­ers.

It is lit­tle won­der, with nar­ra­tive and psy­cho­log­i­cal mo­men­tum flatlin­ing, that Tor­day has to ap­ply the de­fib­ril­la­tors in the last pages of his novel, which takes a sud­denly blood­thirsty turn. Tor­day even soups up the for­got­ten gothic trap­pings of its open­ing as the mys­te­ri­ous Lamia re­veals her­self — to any­one who has not re­called their Keats or googled her most un­usual name — as an­other an­cient fig­ure, the child­mur­der­ing, half-fe­male, half-ser­pent de­mon of Greek myth.

The Girl on the Land­ing re­tains many of the el­e­ments that worked well in Sal­mon Fish­ing in the Ye­men: al­ter­nat­ing nar­ra­tive view­points, the theme of es­cape from a stul­ti­fy­ing mar­riage, and so­cial satire. This novel also fol­lows his first in be­ing a kind of Shirley Valen­tine for men, freight­ing the reawak­en­ing of a mid­dle-aged plod­der with just enough hard sci­ence to con­vince the male reader he is not read­ing a ro­mance, at least for its first three-quar­ters.

Yet one also feels that di­verse el­e­ments ( sal­mon prop­a­ga­tion, the can-do pol­i­tics of the Blair gov­ern­ment, mend­ing re­la­tions be­tween the Mid­dle East and the West) came to­gether or­gan­i­cally in Tor­day’s de­but novel. Here he seems to be try­ing to work from a for­mula.

In this case, de­spite his flir­ta­tion with the su­per­nat­u­ral, the magic does not come. Delia Fal­coner is the ed­i­tor of Best Aus­tralian Sto­ries 2008 and The Pen­guin Book of the Road. foot­notes Boyle has con­cocted to com­ment on the text and the action.

Com­pli­cat­ing mat­ters even fur­ther, the reader is then given to un­der­stand that it is Tadashi and his grand­son-in-law Sea­mus O’Fla­herty ( an­other fic­tion) who have writ­ten this en­tire nar­ra­tive, one which they had in fact com­pleted in 1979.

It is some­where in the mid­dle of all this nar­ra­tive mud­dle, th­ese 450 pages of lit­er­ary game-play­ing and fic­tion-mak­ing non­senses, that the reader gives up.

For in the midst of all the shenani­gans the most im­por­tant fig­ure of all, the man him­self, Frank Lloyd Wright — or Wri­eto-San, as Tadashi re­spect­fully calls him through­out the novel — be­gins to fade into the back­ground.

He is there, of course, a fig­ure that wafts through the book in that swirling black cape and that cocky black beret, ar­ro­gant, selfish and naive, but he is there not so much as a char­ac­ter but more as an au­tho­rial de­vice, a cat­a­lyst rather than the very heart and soul of The Women.

The great ar­chi­tect, the rev­o­lu­tion­ary, the lover, the re­cal­ci­trant, the vol­canic ge­nius of leg­end and his­tory emerges from the text a cliche; and a ba­nal, self-cen­tred, rather silly one at that.

Boyle’s At­las might not have shrugged but, in the end, this reader did.

An­gela Ben­nie is a Syd­ney jour­nal­ist.

Il­lus­tra­tion: Sturt Krygsman

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.