Update: in response

Spiritual Cul-de-Sacs

Written in response to:

Wild Islands

What I love about the Sydney Review of Books is that there is now more space for longer, denser, better-researched writing about writing. As arts inches have shrunk in recent years, the SRB ought to be congratulated for its (mostly) high standard of respectful, provocative and intellectually up-to-date essays and criticism.

What I don’t love about the Sydney Review of Books is that recently it published a critique of Gregory Day’s latest novel, Archipelago of Souls, that while intelligent and scholarly was, finally, a tad bloodless. The book I read skillfully navigates the relationship between psychic and geographic terrains, its tricky and painful nooks and crannies, its spiritual cul-de-sacs.

To suggest as Weaver does that Day has in some way rendered the central female character without agency or voice is to miss the point of the narrative. Both characters, Wes and Leonie, share a motherless and inarticulate grief that is gradually and carefully released and given shape and place in their eventual coming together. There is nothing clichéd about this union, nothing stereotypical about these characters.

Indeed, this is a fleshy book, a sensual and sexy book – its language true and its characters deftly and movingly observed. It explores a lot of questions. What does the body reveal to us when trauma means we can no longer speak? How is it possible to love, feel safe, be redeemed when we are ashamed, abandoned, motherless? What is this thing called a modern cultural identity informed by the ancient mythologies of Crete. And what of our scurrilous and partially erased ancient mythologies right here in Australia? What happens when a young Australian soldier is left behind on a foreign island in the middle of the Mediterranean and is forced to face his own ghosts and those of Homer and Zeus?

This is a great story told with great sentences wrought with a poet’s attention to the filigree of language and texture and a story-teller’s awareness of drama, conflict and catharsis.

And please SRB, you have too much space to default to cheap shorthand. The author’s suggestion that Day’s book is ‘the literary equivalent to the slow food movement’ is the stuff of fast-turn-around journalism.

Elly Varrenti
Castlemaine Victoria

Published October 13, 2015