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Exciting debut by a young Australian whose lyrical command of precise language and offbeat imagery draws a reader happily into a strange yet instantly recognizable world. Eureka Jones, Falconer’s narrator, tells the story of her never-to-be-fulfilled passion for Harry Kitchings, a phlegmatic and serious young man who appears one day in 1907 in Eureka’s hometown of Katoomba, near the majestic Blue Mountains, prepared to dedicate his skill as a photographer to capturing the images of clouds and the face of God (he believes) that’s in them. Juxtaposed parallel narratives explore, on the one hand, Harry’s inevitable surrender to the “photographic madness” rampant throughout his family, and, on the other, Eureka’s interrupted progress toward womanhood: a chronicle of bereavements and submissions to adult convention. Falconer plots her fablelike narrative deftly: Eureka’s frustrated yearnings take her in several unexpected directions and climax in a vivid series of scenes at the Hydro Majestic, an old hotel transformed into a “sanatorium for consumptives” where Eureka works as a nurse. We also observe a parade of quirkily drawn neo-Dickensian characters, including the insatiably charitable ladies of Katoomba’s Fresh Air League, the Tom Swiftian pharmacist Mr. Medlicott, and Les Curtain, the tubercular horticulturist who (barely) manages to make Eureka a woman. Best of all, these blithely eccentric souls and their doings are related by a rich romantic voice that tosses off lush descriptions (“The hot pumpkin-colored dessert”) and metaphors (“The skyless lanes . . . thick with hanging washing, where rats ran like ink in the gutters at night”) on almost every page. The rich story here furthermore provides a compelling if oblique picture of rural Australia during the traumatic WW I years. If Falconer’s debut has an antecedent, it’s the novel that put its country on the postmodern literary map: Rodney Hall’s magical-realist romp Just Relations. All the same, this stunning tale of unrequited loves, sacred and profane alike, is a work of impressive originality, concentration, and force.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-374-26105-9
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1998