viernes, 17 de enero de 2014

Woman Of The Inner Sea by Thomas Keneally

Woman Of The Inner Sea by Thomas Keneally is a thoroughly satisfying novel. Via its pages, the reader shares its characters’ experience, inhabits their landscape and almost participates in the stories told. Late twentieth century Australia is where everything happens, but the country’s apparently inescapable sense of its own history continually seeps through the experience. The novel, thus, is more than a story, more than a personal history, more than a drama.

Kate Gaffney-Kozinsky is the book’s central character. Née Gaffney, she was originally of Irish stock and gained the Polish double barrel by virtue of marriage. Virtue may be a stretch of both truth and reality when describing this particular marriage, however.

Kate Gaffney has an uncle who is a priest. Given the Irish connection this is not altogether surprising. But Kate’s uncle is not the usual sort of cleric. He has particular interests and proclivities that result in his rubbing shoulders with the rich, the powerful and the infamous. Thomas Keneally’s novel pre-dates scandal relating to personal abuse by clerics, and there is no mention of this in relation to the story of Kate’s uncle, but the rest will eventually conspire to condemn him and indeed defrock him. But a tension that is present and one that Thomas Keneally brings out to great effect is the way that this Irishness, this anti-British nationalism, can in Australia be lumped together with the traditional English rump to form a contrast with the later arrivals to the country from Greece, Poland, Lebanon, Vietnam, Italy and elsewhere.

It is pertinent to Kate’s story because she meets and marries a Kozinsky, a Pole, one of the more recent, non Anglo-Saxon antipodeans. The family has made a huge fortune in developing investment property. They are rich, famous and successful. Kate’s life is duly transformed.

Two children are born and they begin to grow up in a family whose cracks are beginning to appear. Kate internalises anything that might appear to fall short of overt success. But then mothers often do regard as failure anything less than perfection in themselves, especially in those things that impinge upon their children’s lives. Kate turns to new relationships, seeking there perhaps to fill some of the cracks that have appeared in the very structure of her own family life. And then things really fall apart.

Kate seeks out a new life. She takes a train into her country’s interior, that vast, even now largely unknown hinterland where it is usually failure, not opportunity, that awaits. She becomes a barmaid in a back-of-beyond town that suffers chronic and regular flooding, and, sure enough, climatic disaster strikes again. A man called Jelly reckons that a hole blown through a railway embankment would relieve the town of its unwanted surfeit of water. Predicting the blast proves more difficult that setting it.

The plot wanders across country after explosive events. A large kangaroo and an emu travel in the party, on their way to a film set where they are cast in parts of a living national coat of arms. Kate thus travels again, but always pursued by her husband’s family lawyer, who wants her to sign away her rights, responsibilities and any presumed guilt.


When, later, abortive attempts at settlement have been attempted and come to nothing, Kate tries to take things into her own hands and seeks a settlement of her own. Her priest-uncle’s fate has taken its turns, as, she discovers, have the fortunes of the Kozinskys. While she has been bound up in the detail of her own life and its imaginings, fears and guilt, things outside of her direct experience have moved on. The world she rediscovers has changed. The landscape, though still unchanging ancient Australia, is now utterly different, offering new possibilities to new lives and even the opportunity to rewrite her personal history. Kate Gaffney thus explores the great inner sea of her country at the same time as navigating the tides of her own innermost fears. The journey, as ever, lands on new shores in old places.

My latest book, One On One, is a romantic espionage thriller set on an island in the South China Sea

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