THE GRISLY WIFE by Rodney Hall


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 The last of Hall's three-volume imaginative history of Australia (Kisses of the Enemy, 1988; The Second Bridegroom, 1991)- -a riveting novel of miracles, murder, and prophecy in the remote Australian bush. When a policeman comes round to the old mission station asking questions about a brutal murder, aging Catherine Byrne at last has an audience--and an opportunity to tell the extraordinary story of her life. Daughter of an English clergyman, young Catherine loved cousin Dora; but when a neighbor introduced her to Muley Moloch, a charismatic preacher and illiterate bootmaker who'd taken over the name of a famous Irish apostate, she was overwhelmed by a ``miracle'' he performed (she saw Moloch briefly fly)--a miracle that led to marriage to Moloch and to their departure for Australia with a band of eight women disciples, the Household of Hidden Stars. Believing he had a gift from God, Moloch wanted to establish a community of women (``morals are the work of women'') to await the imminent Second Coming. In a stream of lyrical consciousness, Catherine recalls the long, dangerous voyage from England; her miraculous recovery from TB; Moloch's miraculous bringing back from the dead of drowned opera singer Louise; the fearful demons who inhabit the bush; the virgin birth of her son Immanuel; the petty jealousies that divided the disparate band of women; and the long- ago murder she thinks the policeman is inquiring about. It's a confession as much of spiritual failings as temporal ones, of loss of faith as well as of misdeeds. Above all, it is an opportunity to purge the past and soul: ``What else should I confess to you while I have the chance to influence the way you'll judge all this?'' Ever-fascinating mysteries of the human spirit--explored with a light but always sensitive touch in a luminous setting. And an absorbing read.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-374-16704-4
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 1993