Australian poet Lawrence perceptively details a young schizophrenic’s struggle to live and love normally.
Narrator James Molloy lives with his family near Sydney. It’s a close and loving clan, but from early childhood on James is increasingly aware of disturbances in his head. He sees gold circles and hears strange noises. He’s an indifferent student who gets into trouble for talking to himself and letting his imagination run wild: “. . . words appeared, held together by strings and hooks of light.” In his senior year of high school, instructed by his voices, he skips out and heads to Sydney. There, he meets Stephanie, a slightly older woman who also hears voices and talks about moving to Ireland, where her father died. When the two meet again, Stephanie tells James that she’s been diagnosed as schizophrenic and suggests that he too needs help. His parents, especially his father, are at first reluctant to accept that James is mentally ill, and the young man himself is determined to make a life as a poet. His struggle to do so is movingly and persuasively detailed with perfectly pitched emotion. Feeling better after he’s put on medication, James meets Tina in her father’s bookstore and falls in love. But when she’s killed in an accident, he finds himself falling through the hole that had once only opened on his bed but now is everywhere. His pills don’t help, and James is hospitalized for three years. Emerging as healed as he’ll ever be, he knows that with daily medication he is “ bound to the earth by a synthetic dependency, but on the earth nevertheless.” James then heads to Ireland to find Stephanie, but instead—in an overlong, overdrawn, and unconvincing interlude—meets singer Sarah, the third young woman who will drastically change his life.
The initially engaging story loses momentum two thirds through, but this is still a debut of great promise.