Sunday, August 25, 2013

An Empty, Meandering Failure of a Prize Winner




This novel is a multiple prize winner and for the life of me I cannot understand why. It won this year's Miles Franklin and the Prime Ministers Award.

It's an empty, meandering failure. I was profoundly irritated by the clotted prose, the passive voice and the constant sloppy use of the wrong word just because it sounded edgy or novel.

It tells the separate stories of two main characters Laura and Ravi. They left me cold, as did the hundreds of other minor characters introduced every second page. The whole thing is a mess. It's a very labored 500 page trawl through these characters' travels and travails. Whatever plot there is lurches forward with grinding tedium. Sure, Australia is sunny, suburban, peaceful, multicultural, but with sad and violent personal histories threaded into its immigrant tapestry. But no larger exploration of meaning is being attempted, at least as far as I could tell.

De Kretser writes like a painter paints - constant dabs of 'there was', 'there were' - adding some descriptive color but not propelling the narrative. Pages and pages are clogged with this sort of impressionistic stuff. Touristy bric-a-brac - a bit of this, a bit of that, all mashed together.

And the ending is entirely predictable - it's Sri Lanka in December 2004. Have a guess!