Chief of Staff
Thomas Keneally (writing as William Coyle)
"May 1942. The Chief of Staff is Lieutenant-General Calton Sandforth, right-hand man to the charismatic General Wraith - 'Big Drum' - whose ambitions stretch beyond preventing the Japanese invasion of Australia and winning the war in the Pacific, to the White House itself.
"Sandforth wields with relish the power delegated to him, but in Melbourne he falls ruinously in love with a young Australian servicewoman, Dimity Lewis, as disarmingly honest as she is quietly ambitious. Though both are already married, they embark on a passionate affair. Painfully aware that he has been given a last chance to live to the full while younger men are dying, Sandforth makes desperate choices which could blight his own future as well as Big Drum's political chances, and compromise Dimity's trust.
"Their story evokes the atmosphere, the telling detail, of wartime Australia. As Sindforth and Dimity move nearer the front - to Brisbane, Townsville and finally to the battle zone of New Guinea - Chief of Staff compellingly depicts the shifts and subterfuges, the absurd realities and raw emotions of an affair in which the lovers are exposed not only to the stresses of war, but also to the pressures of political intrigue from Canberra to Washington.
"Writing as William Coyle, with characteristic mastery Thomas Keneally weaves history into fiction, uncovering the ambiguous morality of public and private acts in a novel of epic scope and intense personal drama."
They both looked very pleased with themselves as they got down, out of the first-class carriage. Their uniforms seemed lighter, cooler, better cut than those of the young militiamen hurrying up and down the platform in heavy wool tunics. The militiamen all at once saw these two lean, ageless, well-tailored men and - oh shit! - remembered to throw them a salute. The autumn humidity seemed to have stewed every other face on the platform, but the faces of the two officers were tanned and calm and dry.
Dim, feeling a little stewed herself in her own woollen private's uniform, was waiting at the ticket barrier. In American films, people were allowed on to railway platforms without tickets. There was never a ticket barrier when Veronica Lake waited for Robert Taylor. Dim had sometimes wished it was like that at Spencer Street Station.
When for instance her mother used to come down from Maneering to visit her at boarding school, Dim had stood by the ticket barrier in a different sort of uniform from the one she was wearing now, the uniform of the Presbyterian Ladies' College, and wished that like girls in American films she could have run beside the train, laughing up white-teethed at her mother in the arriving carriage.
From the Chatto & Windus hardback edition, 1991.
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Last modified: November 15, 2001.