Pup­pets and laugh­ing clowns go only so far

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - James Tier­ney

The Weaver Fish

By Robert Ede­son Fre­man­tle Press, 272pp, $27.99


By Ray Glick­man Fre­man­tle Press, 380pp, $26.99 THESE de­but nov­els from Perth writ­ers Robert Ede­son and Ray Glick­man are both con­cerned with the sharp prac­tices and eli­sions of what we choose to call re­al­ity. Both fic­tional re­al­i­ties are in­formed by the au­thor’s em­ploy­ment his­tory. Ede­son has worked as a con­sul­tant anaes­thetist and has pub­lished re­search pa­pers in neu­ro­science and biophysics; Glick­man has worked in so­cial work, psy­chol­ogy and man­age­ment.

The Perth of Glick­man’s Re­al­ity is a city of near-blind­ing re­flec­tions tamped in rooms made ag­gres­sively com­fort­able by air­con­di­tion­ing and shaded win­dows. Tak­ing its in­spi­ra­tion from re­al­ity TV’s thou­sand­strength fil­ter­ing of the ob­ser­va­tion nightmare laid out in Ge­orge Or­well’s Nine­teen EightyFour, the novel’s un­named Big Brother ran­domly pits six ‘‘con­tes­tants’’ against each other in tri­als of de­pen­dence and greed.

Like the moral­ity play it re­sem­bles, Re­al­ity is less con­cerned with the char­ac­ters than their avari­cious sig­ni­fiers. From psy­chi­a­trist and Holo­caust-sur­vivor Han­nah, gy­nae­col­o­gist Robert and loan shark Mario, each pa­rades a dif­fer­ent as­pect of muf­fled self-in­ter­est. Fit­ting as close as they do to the re­al­ity TV roles of the strate­gic plan­ner, the self-de­luded looker and the lusty sim­ple­ton, less should have been made of the ran­dom­ness of their se­lec­tion.

That doesn’t stop you from feel­ing sorry for them, though. Mario in par­tic­u­lar is de­scribed — by an­other char­ac­ter — as a ‘‘ wop with the lot’’ and as hav­ing the abil­ity to bung on ‘‘ur­gency in the time-hon­oured fash­ion mas­tered by all Ital­ians to jump queues’’.

Glick­man’s prose is some­times blunt and re- pe­t­i­tive and would have ben­e­fited from some ju­di­cious re­work­ing. Much of the novel’s propul­sion is to be found in the open schem­ing and di­rect ad­dress of our pup­pet mas­ter. The de­ci­sion to al­ter­nate his voice with that of the close third per­son em­ployed for his not al­ways pre­dictable mar­i­onettes is a canny one. But the mech­a­nism of the plot is ap­par­ent too early, so the nar­ra­tive push falls away pre­cip­i­tously.

In con­trast, the in­ven­tions in Ede­son’s The Weaver Fish are dizzy­ing by virtue of their sheer ex­trav­a­gance. The dis­ap­pear­ance of ‘‘lo­gi­cian, lin­guist and dream the­o­rist’’ Ed­vard Tossen­tern while bal­loon­ing over the Feren­des (Friend­ship) Is­lands pitches the reader into a fan­tas­ti­cal mix of bi­ol­ogy, mythol­ogy and lin­guis­tics. From a mur­mu­ra­tion of mos­qui­toes, a fruit that is seeded with gold, to the flesh-eat­ing tit­u­lar fish pos­sessed of a col­lec­tive sen­tience, noth­ing is quite what it seems.

Tossen­tern’s pre­sumed death is de­scribed as cre­at­ing ‘‘a void in his name, a hi­atal self roughedged by the forces and fail­ure of mem­ory, metonymy, and the weak­en­ing spec­tral vi­sion of those who missed him’’. This rather el­e­gant pile-up is not just in­dica­tive of Ede­son’s lay­ered, pre­cise, if slightly air­less, prose style. Lan­guage is a puzzle: Ede­son keeps its at­tach­ment to mean­ing elu­sive, play­ful yet con­crete.

The Weaver Fish is al­most as play­ful with form. What starts as an aca­demic tale of dis­cov­ery soon morphs into an edgy thriller. Ex­tracts from sci­en­tific pa­pers, mem­oirs and in­ter­views are mixed in with a third-per­son nar­ra­tive voice. For much of its length, this is a de­light­ful roller-coaster of a novel but its in­ven­tion goes only so far. Its pro­tag­o­nists are thinly shaped and cap­tive to their dis­ci­plines. Like an in­verse laugh­ing clown at Luna Park, they are also made to spit up big red balls of ex­po­si­tion when all you want them to do is talk.

The alchemy of suc­cess­ful char­ac­ters may be too much of a sin­gle-minded pur­suit for much re­al­ist fic­tion but, with­out it, or a surer hand with prose, any num­ber of fan­tas­tic ideas flicker briefly, then are gone.

James Tier­ney is a writer and blog­ger.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.