‘The Life to Come’ by Michelle de Kretser

The Monthly (Australia) - - THE ALLURING WORLD OF LIANE MORIARTY -

Like Michelle de Kretser’s other Miles Franklin win­ner, Ques­tions of Travel, her sixth novel works its plot around a set of ques­tions. Here they turn on how to shape a life for one­self and for oth­ers. The Life to Come con­sists of five pre­cise, am­ple slices of life, stretch­ing from youth to old age, and fea­tures a large cast. Pippa, a mid-list writer, unites their sto­ries; though not al­ways the cen­tral char­ac­ter, she moves through them with a dis­arm­ing but bru­tal naivety.

The set­ting is mostly Syd­ney, but we have come to ex­pect that de Kretser’s char­ac­ters will live across ge­ogra­phies and cul­tures. A lonely woman in Paris; two age­ing émi­gré spin­sters; white old-money Aus­tralians; a Sri Lankan shop­keeper; a Mus­lim os­teopath: all pos­sess lives ripe with back­story, and some have been touched by his­tor­i­cal bar­bar­i­ties.

Through­out they tweet, Face­book and Skype, write nov­els and wait for let­ters. The novel sug­gests that these tech­nolo­gies – whether ba­nal or en­gag­ing – are the medium through which we fash­ion our­selves but also try to keep the ex­is­ten­tial void at bay.

Al­though de Kretser likes her so­cial archetypes, this is not quite satire; and, while her de­scrip­tions of place and hu­man con­tra­dic­tion are pin­point, The Life to Come is not quite re­al­ism ei­ther. In­stead, she re­news Patrick White’s tragi­comic vi­sion, of­fer­ing lov­ing homage to it in her beau­ti­ful but wound­ing Syd­ney, and the wasted but pro­found lives of Pippa’s el­derly neigh­bours in the book’s fi­nal sec­tion. Though less cruel, de Kretser’s no slouch her­self at the funny-ap­palling, hint­ing through­out that Pippa, in her smug sense of re­move from global mat­ters, may be the dom­i­nant Aus­tralian type.

In this re­mark­ably full novel, each char­ac­ter strug­gles with a sense that life is else­where. While some con­tem­po­rary writ­ers are ques­tion­ing the con­ven­tions of char­ac­ter and in­te­ri­or­ity, de Kretser shows that the Mod­ernist novel still has ma­jor work to do.

Delia Fal­coner

While some con­tem­po­rary writ­ers are ques­tion­ing the con­ven­tions of char­ac­ter and in­te­ri­or­ity, de Kretser shows that the Mod­ernist novel still has ma­jor work to do.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.