An Item from the Late News
"A new Thea Astley novel is always a significant literary event, and discerning readers will not be disappointed with what promises to be her best effort yet - An Item From the Late News.
"Wafer is a Bomb Age Baby. Legend has it he was born to an Australian father and a Swedish mother in Europe just before World War II, and as a young child saw his father blown apart by a bomb during the London Blitz. His own shell-shocked youth has been an aimless drifting through boarding schools, odd jobs, and hippie trails all over the world. Finally, he lands exhausted in Allbut, a small and decaying mining town somewhere in Queensland. Haunted by the modern-day myth of nuclear holocaust, Wafer seeks the perfect bomb shelter. And what better place to build your shelter than Allbut, Australia?
"Allbut, however, considers itself a clean and decent town, and it is soon clear that Wafer does not belong there. he is kind to Aborigines, helpful to travelling strangers, and worst of all - he doesn't drink. A valuable gem stone, found by Wafer in the mddle of noweher on his way to Allbut is misunderstood by the impoverished townspeople as evidence of a secret strike...and what is the town to make of Wafer's friendship with thirteen-year-old Emmeline, a strange and beautiful enfant terrible? As Christmas approaches, tensions and temperatures soar, unleashing the town's hostility towards Wafer, driving on to the story's brutal climax.
"Thea Astley's chilling story of a misfit's clash with parochial values is set against a fabulous array of myths - classical, modern, intriguing compounds of the two - giving the novel unusual resonance and power."First Paragraph:
It all came to a head in a couple of months, really, those two months ten years ago now when the town prepared for and then dismissed its barbaric Christmas. And why barbaric? Always barbaric?
Not always, I suppose, though beer-gut belchings and the rattle of schooner glasses that always discover the Christmas crib and soothe the infant with whack yoicks, seem to me to have a muckworm style. All towns. Not just this one. Because this one is smaller, a mere speck on the world's glassy eye, the grossness horribly apparaent.
Time usually diminishes the memory; but for me it has done nothing but magnify that swollen moment of history when Wafer had the wax on his wings melted from flying too close, not to the sun, but to the local grandees.
I look back. I was. I am. I am now. Very now. I was then.
There was nothing outside that town.
From the UQP hardback edition, 1984.
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Last modified: November 16, 2004.