Ma­te­rial girls end up choos­ing au­ton­omy

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books -

In her new novel, The Spec­tac­u­lar Life of Sasha Torte, and its re­cent pre­de­ces­sor Ho­tel du Barry, Mel­bourne au­thor Les­ley Truf­fle gives the young fe­male pro­tag­o­nists ex­tra­or­di­nary ad­ven­tures and so­cial mo­bil­ity. Her hu­mour is droll, her tone arch, her satire per­va­sive.

Truf­fle’s nov­els may be con­sumed in­di­vid­u­ally but they also work as match­ing con­fec­tions. Sce­nar­ios set up in the first are ren­o­vated in the sec­ond, gen­er­ally to the ben­e­fit of psy­cho­log­i­cal mo­ti­va­tion, plot mo­men­tum and ex­pan­sion of scope.

Ho­tel du Barry (2016) is nar­rated from var­i­ous points of view, while The Spec­tac­u­lar Life of Sasha Torte, a sup­posed me­moir, is in the first per­son. Play­ing with the hyp­o­crit­i­cal pro­nounce­ments of old-school au­thor’s pref­aces, Sasha as­sures read­ers she will be “as hon­est as pos­si­ble” about her “sen­sual pro­cliv­i­ties”.

Those who ob­ject should think of her text as a po­tent cham­pagne punch: “put [it] down slowly and ab­stain from ever sam­pling it again”. Or, as read­ers may re­call Peter Carey’s in­vet­er­ate con­man nar­ra­tor warn­ing at the start of Il­ly­whacker: “Caveat emp­tor.”

Truf­fle’s fic­tions can be seen as elab­o­rate folk or fairy­tales. She al­ludes to the Broth­ers Grimm sev­eral times. When I first read Sasha’s ac­count of liv­ing volup­tuously in jail, oc­cu­py­ing a tower sump­tu­ously fur­nished by a neme­sis at­tempt­ing to as­suage his guilt, I was re­minded of the preWorld War I en­vi­ron­ment in which An­gela Carter places her pro­tag­o­nist in The Bloody Cham­ber; Blue­beard’s young bride will learn and sur­vive. Truf­fle’s books grant her char­ac­ters wish-ful­fil­ment in cli­mates of aban­don­ment, im­pos­ture and re­cent or im­mi­nent war.

A sec­ond way of view­ing th­ese nov­els is as per­for­mances. Backed by ensem­ble play­ers, Truf­fle’s pro­tag­o­nists act out their for­ma­tive and self-fash­ion­ing ex­pe­ri­ences. There is pageantry as char­ac­ters show off their ex­trav­a­gances. It isn’t hard to en­vis­age a con­tem­po­rary Hog­a­rth or Gill­ray de­riv­ing a se­quence of ur­ban car­toons from Truf­fle’s episodes.

The pi­caro tra­di­tion of­fers a third way of com­pre­hend­ing the tra­jec­to­ries of Truf­fle’s hero­ines. The pi­caresque nar­ra­tive mode made a come­back in the sec­ond half of the 20th cen­tury, with screen and stage adap­ta­tions and new texts re­spon­sive to the in­creas­ingly per­mis­sive cul­ture of the West. The Amorous Ad­ven­tures of Moll Flan­ders, based on The For­tunes and Mis­for­tunes of the Fa­mous Moll Flan­ders, a 1722 fic­tion at­trib­uted to Daniel De­foe, ap­peared in cin­e­mas in 1965. And in 1991 and again in 2006 an­other De­foe work, Rox­ana, aka The For­tu­nate Mistress, or A His­tory of the Life and Vast Va­ri­ety of For­tunes of Made­moi­selle de Be­leau, re­turned in made-for-tele­vi­sion pro­duc­tions.

In lo­cal lit­er­a­ture, some Aus­tralian male au­thors adopted the pi­caresque mode in the 1970s and 80s, usu­ally cre­at­ing male pro­tag­o­nists (David Ire­land was an ex­cep­tion). The most suc­cess­ful of th­ese nar­ra­tives was Il­ly­whacker. Cur­rently Truf­fle is one of very few au­thors con­coct­ing fan­tas­ti­cal prose his­to­ries of young women. Krissy Kneen could be con­sid­ered an­other. Her blend­ing of sci­ence fic­tion with bil­dungsro­man and lit­er­ary-in­flected erot­ica in The Ad­ven­tures of Holly White and the In­cred­i­ble Sex Ma­chine is not en­tirely alien to Truf­fle’s imag­i­na­tive con­tent, which ex­tends to such sur­real scenes as a tango danced in Hades.

The story of Ca­te­rina in Ho­tel du Barry be­gins in 1919, coin­ci­den­tally the year of the open­ing es­capade in Il­ly­whacker, and ex­tends to the late 1930s. Truf­fle’s fic­ti­tious Lon­don ho­tel, “an opera of op­u­lent yet in­ti­mate pom­pos­ity”, is the moth­er­ship of a chain built by Daniel du Barry’s fa­ther from the prof­its of brothel-keep­ing.

When a foundling is dis­cov­ered, Daniel and his unlov­ing part­ner in a laven­der mar­riage adopt her, the ho­tel pro­vid­ing an ed­uca­tive set­ting for the rear­ing of the sharp-eyed Cat. With crimes of pas­sion and avarice never too far away, the Ho­tel du Barry’s de­tec­tive, the noir­sound­ing Jim Blade, is kept busy. And when love and the search for her birth mother pro­pel Cat to Paris, she finds it’s an­other city of su­perla­tives. There is also a death in Venice, with a to­tal of three sus­pi­cious deaths of splen­did young men sug­gest­ing a se­rial killer is at large.

Sasha’s nar­ra­tive moves from 1898 through to 1912, travers­ing times of so­cial and tech­no­log­i­cal change and im­pe­ri­al­ist ex­pan­sion­ism. With her fa­ther dead and mother ab­sent, Sasha is reared by her pub­li­can grand­fa­ther in an imag­i­nary an­tipodean port. Wolfftown is an amal­gam of the law­less wild west fron­tier com­mu­ni­ties of Amer­i­can movies, the reck­less and pi­rat­i­cal cul­ture of mar­itime trade, and the re­mote colony run by pseudo-aris­to­crats, oli­garchs and gangs.

Sasha’s ini­tial fi­nan­cial gains re­quire skil­ful hard work as the pro­pri­etor of a baroque-

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.