In preparation for our trip to Australia, I chose a book from the top ten Australian novels, according to my favorite book blog, Reading Matters. This book was slow going, but the effort was well worth it. First, I had to have my iPhone nearby to look up words or see locations. You probably didn’t know a larrikin is Australian slang for an unruly person. Or the principle of Prince Rupert’s Drops. If a little molten glass is dropped into a bucket of ice water, the drop cannot be broken with a hammer. But if you snap off the tail of the drop, it will explode into a million pieces. (Here’s a demonstration.)
And then there’s the complicated plot. At the very outset the narrator (who makes only a few appearances) tells you the “punchline,” but it seemed so unlikely to me that more than once I checked to see if I had made a mistake.
And there are the rich and detailed descriptions, like this one of a minor character, Mrs. Stratton, who although she was not a university don, had the walk of one. “The dynamics of this walk are best appreciated if you place a three-foot-high stack of reference books in your imaginary walker’s extended arms….You can see immediately why the body of such a person tilts forward at 60 degrees to the horizontal. It is the books , or the propensity for books that does it.” The book is dense with wonderful observations and digressions.
You know that Oscar will arrive in a backwater of 1860s Australia sitting in a glass church that is on a boat. You know that the church was made in Lucinda’s glass factory in Sydney and that she would lose her factory and all of her fortune to the narrator’s great grandmother. It was thrilling to follow the byzantine paths of the characters.
There was a section that I found awfully negative and mean spirited. This did seem to pass.