Combined Reviews: The Garden Book by Brian Castro

garden_book.jpg Reviews of The Garden Book by Brian Castro.

Brian Castro started his literary career with his first novel, Birds of Passage, winning the 1982 Australian/Vogel Award. The Garden Book is his eighth novel.

Description: "Brian Castro's new novel is set in the Dandenong Ranges in the years between the Depression and the Second World War. The story revolves around Swan Hay, born Shuang He, daughter of a country schoolteacher, her marriage to the passionate and brutal Darcy Damon, and her love affair with the aviator and architect Jasper Zenlin. Fifty years after her disappearance, Norman Shih, a rare book librarian, pieces together Swan's chaotic life from clues found in guest house libraries, antiquarian bookshops and her own elusive writings. But what exactly is his relationship to her?

"The Garden Book is about loneliness, addiction, exploitation; it is about the precarious nature of Australian lives, when gripped by fear and racial prejudice. Yet underlying the story, and commanding it, there is the assured beat of Castro's prose, evoking an ideal world beyond these fears, full of richness and power."

Peter Pierce, in "The Age", found that, even though the subject matter of the novel has been mined many times in the past, "as always in Castro's hands, a rich and strange narrative emerges". And "The Garden Book is another triumph of intelligence and imagination by one of the most exacting, yet rewarding of Australian novelists, and when the mood is on him, one of the most amusing as well."

Pierce backs up his previous review with another in "The Bulletin", in which he concludes: "For all its aesthetic preoccupations, The Garden Book is political, and underneath the aphorisms and martini-dry puns is a despair at a country that, in moments of crisis, becomes nationalistic to the point of provincialism, ungenerous to the point of cruelty, pragmatic to the point of philistinism. To defer to Norman Shih, the collector of fragments in The Garden Book itself, 'remarks are made that turn me away from any humanistic ideology, towards the margins of subversion. I smile back, I write, and I move on.' In that, a script for being."

In "Australian Book Review", Melinda Harvey uses her review of the novel to sink the slipper into current Australian literary works as a lead-in: "Novel-writing, in a word (and it's one that has been flung around with a degree of passion recently), has become 'gutless' storytelling." But she seems to be of the opinion that this novel is not so gastrically challenged: "Brian Castro's The Garden Book is that rare species: a new Australian novel with moxie...[It] is also bold because it manages to look our nation directly in the face without a single reference to the three 'Rs' - reconciliation, republicanism and refugees. As a consequence, the book is cool-eyed rather than nostalgic, even when the prose turns purple."

Brian Castro was profiled by Susan Wyndham in "The Sydney Morning Herald".

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on February 14, 2006 11:38 AM.

Australian Literary Monuments #5 - Mary Gilmore was the previous entry in this blog.

Great Australian Authors #17 - Barcroft Boake is the next entry in this blog.

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