TOURMALINE by Randolph Stow


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From the mid-1960s: an early novel by Stow (Visitants, The Girl Green As Elder-flower), set in an isolated, moribund western Australian mining-town by the name of Tourmaline. One of the residents finds a man in the surrounding desert, half-dead from exposure, and brings him in. The man, who soon recovers, announces himself as a diviner--and water being what Tourmaline acutely needs, he's welcomed. On his first trip out in search of a well, however, the diviner finds a vein of gold. And as if this were not ironic dislocation enough, the diviner turns out to be a religious zealot (as his title might have suggested): he's avid to convert young, robustly sexual Deborah away from her brute of a husband, Kestrel--and toward the diviner's own crackpottery and self-denial. Despite some slight passing resemblance to Dostoevsky's The Idiot, unfortunately, the diviner here barely functions at all as a character; the book is instead a set-up for a hardly subtle moral tag: ""a man who hates himself is the only kind of wild beast we have to watch for."" So, though occasionally atmospheric (the town's desolateness and hypersensitivity), this is slight, contrived work from an erratic, minor-key talent.

Pub Date: Feb. 4th, 1982
Publisher: Taplinger