An elderly London memoirist recalls her present on graduating from the Australian outback: rape.
In her 80 years, Bettina Whitelaw has had many successes, including a passel of well-received novels whose acerbic send-ups of thinly veiled real people have won her a lovely flat in Holland Park Crescent filled with Aboriginal art. But there have also been a few glitches along the way, including a wartime marriage that ended in quick divorce and unwanted pregnancy and, still further back, a sexual assault that sent her scurrying from rural Bundaroo to her auntie in Armidale, then on to Sydney, and finally off to London. Now, as she’s dredging up her past for literary fodder, her brother Oliver, his son Mark, and the daughter she set out for adoption over 50 years ago all descend on her from Australia. Hughie, the pommy London aesthete who’s the only friend she’s kept from her youth, drones on that they all want her money. But someone who wants even more breaks into her flat, putting her former housekeeper into a coma and absconding with a piece of well-publicized Aboriginal art. Is the motive greed? Payback for dysfunctional mothering? Or a plan to smash those memoir tapes and evade responsibility for that ancient rape?
Below par for the usually dexterous Barnard (The Mistress of Alderley, p. 271, etc.), with surprisingly heavy-handed attempts at misdirection, although the 1930s outback sequences will keep you reading.