Of old Eden

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Eleanor Lim­precht’s

cream lus­tre or her tinsel-thread or­gandie,’’ I said. ‘‘I imag­ine she will have a new dress al­to­gether,’’ said Louisa. ‘‘It will be sewn to­gether from the des­ic­cated corpses of sev­en­teen bush rats, left out to dry in the sun.’’ I snorted glee­fully. How fondly I felt to­wards Louisa some­times! In her mean­ness to­wards Eu­nice Martin, I saw that she was de­mon­strat­ing her loy­alty and af­fec­tion to­wards me. In her own strange way, she was a lov­ing sis­ter.

The whales are them­selves char­ac­ters in Rush Oh!: the killers — each with a name and a dis­tinc­tive per­son­al­ity — and the great baleens, whom Mary de­scribes as dawdling like “re­cal­ci­trant school­boys on their way to school; if there was a bot­tle, they would kick it. It is truly a won­der that they ever get any­where.”

So it is con­fronting, then, to read of the suf­fer­ing the baleens go through, their long, slow death. And the hu­mour and ro­mance do not al­ways sit easily be­side this game of hunter and hunted (at one point our nar­ra­tor asks us to please not com­pare her tale to Moby-Dick).

But Bar­rett has fol­lowed Mary for a rea­son, and it is her voice that car­ries Rush Oh!, with her self-con­scious­ness, hu­mour and florid lan­guage, less pe­riod de­tail than char­ac­ter quirk of an odd but lik­able per­son. It is Mary who you will miss like a sis­ter — “in her own strange way” — when the fi­nal page is turned.

new novel is Long Bay.

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