THE LAST MAGICIAN by Janette Turner Hospital


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 Complex, wordy, sometimes compelling novel of obsession, revenge, and the threatening shadow-world underlying daily life. At the heart of Hospital's story (following Charades--not reviewed; Isobars, 1991; Dislocations, 1988, etc.) is an incident involving four children in 1950's Australia: Charlie Chang, racial outsider; Catherine Reed, upper-class girl with brains and heart; Robbie Gray, rich boy with ravenous ego and a veneer of social grace; and witchily powerful Cat, fearless outcast. After her brother's ``accidental'' death, Cat testifies against Robbie, is scapegoated, and sent to the girls' reformatory. Aftershocks continue in the lives of all four as Robbie becomes a prominent judge; Catherine flees Australia; photographer/filmmaker Charlie collects and shuffles images to re-envision the past and get the upper hand on Robbie; Cat disappears after years of prostitution and self-mutilation. Their story is pieced together by Lucy, a ``brainy sheila'' and prostitute who has lived in the quarry (a subterranean underclass community carved out beneath respectable Sydney); she is Charlie's friend and the lover of Robbie's son. As observer at secondhand, Lucy--who considers herself a tourist in the underworld--makes an interesting narrator. But when the novel begins, she too is emotionally overwhelmed; her overwrought and very literary telling often detracts from the central story's impact. Charlie Chang, who finds truth through almost magical coincidence, would not be surprised that Hospital's fellow Australian expat Peter Conrad has recently published a florid, intellectual novel (Underworld, p. 200) looking at a postmodern subterranean inferno; Hospital's version has more story. Flawed, sometimes annoying, often resonant.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1992
ISBN: 0-8050-2097-7
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Henry Holt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 1992


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