The Grisly Wife
"In this stunning new novel, Rodney Hall tells the story of Catherine Byrne, a nineteenth-century English missionary who travels to remotest Australia with her prophetic husband and his band of women disciples, the Household of Hidden Stars. Named Muley Moloch after the famous Irish lay preacher whose soul he is determined to save, he is a man of miraculous powers who leads his followers through severe hardship - shipwreck, disease and death - in their millenarian quest.
"Set in 1863 at the dawn of the modern era (with photography, steam power and domestic machines such as the lawn mower revolutionizing people's understanding of their world) The Grisly Wife resonates with echoes and presentiments just beneath the surface of colonial Australia.
"The Grisly Wife is the keystone to Hall's trilogy which begins with The Second Bridegroom and ends with Captivity Captive - surely destined to become one of the great works of Australian fiction."
Queer thing -- but yes -- we do mourn for the England we lost -- maybe because the darkness of the tragedy awaiting us in New South Wales has left the memories of our youth bathed by contrast in clear simple light -- and after so many years of exile one's gentler adventures tend to rise to the surface more and more appealingly --
But the day we set sail from Bristol I doubt if a tear was shed for home -- England being so given to licence in those days and ourselves so out of step -- I believe I speak for everyone including the prophet -- this was to be our adventure in self-sacrifice and despite the fact that we were never exactly missionaries in the usual sense we did speak of this place as a mission right from the beginning -- just as we accepted that we were the Chosen Few --
Being the Chosen Few meant we had a great deal more to look forward to than we had to look back on! -- but you will never understand -- no one born over here can have the least notion how desperate people were to escape the smut and futility of England then --
From the Macmillan hardback edition, 1993.
This novel won the 1994 Miles Franklin Award.
A summary of, and commentary on, this novel is available from the New York University's Literature, Arts and Medicine Database.
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Last modified: January 26, 2006.