TWO BY ASTLEY: KINDNESS CUP and THE ACOLYTE by Thea Astley

TWO BY ASTLEY: KINDNESS CUP and THE ACOLYTE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Two short novels from the 1970's, one successful, the other far less so, by the author of It's Raining in Mango (1987). As has been the case lately with a number of Australian writers, that breakthrough novel has led to publication here of a mixed bag of earlier works. In The Acolyte (1972), a failed engineer and two German sisters devote themselves, body and soul, to the whims of an egotistical blind composer. The author uses great care in dissecting the minutest variations in their orgies of self-sacrifice, but she neglects to show what it is that draws them to destruction. All three are willing doormats from the start. As a result, there is a good deal of truth in Astley's observations but very little interest. Nor are matters helped any by an ostentatiously prickly style. The clotted syntax, reminiscent at times of Patrick White, requires closer reading than the flat characters seem to justify. Far better is A Kindness Cup (1974), which takes as its starting point a historical event--a massacre of Aborigines near a Queensland farming town in 1861. Yet the killings are described only in retrospect, for the principal action of the novel is set 20 years later, at a reunion the town holds for one-time residents who now live elsewhere. One of those who returns is the former schoolmaster, Tom Dorahy, who is determined to make aging pillars of the community acknowledge their crimes. Astley's real subject here is small-town bigotry and hypocrisy, which she lays bare with a verve worthy of Sinclair Lewis. Viewed as a whole, however, this volume is really not the best representation of Astley's work.

Pub Date: May 30th, 1988
Publisher: Putnam