Constant love in the face of terrible odds—such is the old-fashioned but deeply satisfying theme in a thoroughly modern Australian import.
Antipodean barrister and second-novelist Perlman (Three Dollars, 1999) collects award nominations at a Coetzeean rate, but those in search of an intelligent and intelligible read should not be put off by the prizes and the surrounding puffery. This is a love story in the 19th-century tradition, the kind that makes the real world seem a bit dim. Narrated sequentially by seven of the participants, the novel follows the disastrous consequences of an act of love. Intellectually and emotionally gifted schoolteacher Simon Heywood was stunned and disbelieving when Anna, the beautiful, brainy lover he met in college suddenly and without explanation dumped him. Ten years after the fact, he still hasn’t accepted the rejection. It didn’t compute for him then and it doesn’t compute for him now, despite Anna’s having married brash stockbroker Joe Geraghty and given birth to a son, Sam. There has been no contact between the former lovers, but Simon has followed Anna’s unhappy life in an unhealthily close and secret way, seeking always to understand what happened and how he can recover her love, coming to care so much for her son in the process that, when he decides that Anna’s failing marriage is not good for the boy, he kidnaps the child. In addition to Simon, the narrators of the calamity he sets off include Angela, a prostitute who loves Simon and services Joe; Alex, a psychiatrist who abandons impartiality in his concern and love for Simon; Joe and Anna Geraghty; and, finally, Alex’s daughter. The emotional disaster is played out in court, and the aftershocks cause crumblings years later.
Long enough to tell everything that needs to be told, but never ponderous and never overdone. George Eliot down under.