Combined Reviews: The Ballad of Desmond Kale by Roger McDonald

desmond_kale.jpg Reviews of The Ballad of Desmond Kale by Roger McDonald.

[This novel has been shortlisted for the 2006 Miles Franklin award.]

[This novel has been shortlisted for the 2006 Miles Franklin award.]

Description from the publisher's page:
"In the early 1800s, out of the prison society of governors, redcoats, English gaolers, Irish convicts, and the few free settlers of Botany Bay, one had entured much farther inland than a few dozen miles from Sydney into the vast territory claimed, New South Wales. Or so it was believed until the escape of Desmond Kale and the vengeance of his rival, the wildly eccentric parson magistrate Matthew Stanton. THE BALLAD OF DESMOND KALE is Roger McDonald's broad-sweeping novel of the first days of British settlement in Australia. At the centre is Stanton's pursuit of Kale - an Irish political prisoner and a rebelliously brilliant breeder of sheep. The alchemy of wool fascinates, threatens, and transforms when it is discovered that fine wool thrives in New South Wales as nowhere else in in the world, producing veritable gold on sheep's backs. The laying to waste of Spain (Britain's chief supplier of fine wools) at the end of the Napoleonic wars, opens vast new opportunities of supply. THE BALLAD OF DESMOND KALE is both a love story of unusual interest and an epic novel of greed, ambition, conceit, and redemption. The novel is rich in its characterisations and the rawness of its settings, vigour of language, and vividness of personality. The action moves from the early Australian bush to the halls of Westminster, the mills of Yorkshire, the sierras of Spain, the wilds of the Southern Ocean, and returns at last into the far outback for its finale. Once the ballad is sung, ordinary experience is heightened, the world can never be the same again. A brilliant and inspired recreation of the early days of white Australian settlement by one of Australia's finest writers working at the height of his powers."

There don't seem to be any reviews of this novel which react badly to it. All reviewers seem to think it's a pretty impressive piece of work. Peter Pierce in "The Age", can
lead us off as well as anyone, and probably better than most: "McDonald's is a big, ambitious book, a winding tale that takes its due time. There are detours for intriguing subplots - a pregnancy, a feud between half-brothers, a shipwreck, the attempted theft of a map to the fabled inland of the colony, political intrigue over the governing of NSW. There is much detail about the breeding of sheep - the quality of their wool in consequence, the character of the men who are expert in this."

In "Australian Book Review", Michael Williams starts off a bit fixated on the sheep aspect: "How much do you care about sheep? I mean really care about sheep. Because The Ballad of Desmond Kale is up to its woolly neck in them." He does go on from there, which is a blessing: "It's an unusual and inspired variation on the classic Australian colonial novel of hunters for fortune, for identity and for redemption." But Williams does have a few words of caution to impart along with the praise. "This
is a big book that spends a little too long luxuriating in the fun of its grandeurs and at points fails to sustain its narrative drive. The big historical novels that it seems to be emulating have a much clearer sense of focus and of forward momentum. But McDonald does embrace adventure, and at its best, with betrayals and love, ship-wrecks and double-crosses, this is a rollicking good read."

Stella Clarke also considers at the novel in "The Weekend Australian" and is pretty impressed: "Roger McDonald is a riot. This story is balladry of distinction, laid out in prose. He combines a love of intrigue and high adventure with a defiant, lyrical, vigorous way of telling...Here are art and excitement, mixed to magnificent strength. Here are pain and passion, eased through the circumspect medium of a charismatic, old-fashioned style, then springing at you in a gutsy twist of phrase."

, at "The Brisbane News" probably sums it up for all of us: "This is one of the must-read Australian books of 2005." And it comes as no surprise, to me at least, that I'm still to read it and it's now mid-2006.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on June 9, 2006 9:31 AM.

Nobel Prize Anyone? was the previous entry in this blog.

2006 Sydney Writers' Festival is the next entry in this blog.

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