Combined Reviews: Carpentaria by Alexis Wright

carpentaria.jpg Reviews of Carpentaria by Alexis Wright.

Description from the publisher's page:

"Alexis Wright is one of Australia's finest Aboriginal writers. Carpentaria is her second novel, an epic set in the Gulf country of north-western Queensland, from where her people come. The novel's portrait of life in the precariously settled coastal town of Desperance centres on the powerful Phantom family, leader of the Westend Pricklebush people, and its battles with old Joseph Midnight's renegade Eastend mob on the one hand, and the white officials of Uptown and the neighbouring Gurfurrit mine on the other.

"Wright's storytelling is operatic and surreal: a blend of myth and scripture, farce and politics. The novel teems with extraordinary characters - Elias Smith the outcast saviour, the religious zealot Mozzie Fishman, the murderous mayor Stan Bruiser, the moth-ridden Captain Nicoli Finn, the activist and prodigal son Will Phantom, and above all, the queen of the rubbish-dump Angel Day and her sea-faring husband Normal Phantom, the fish-embalming king of time - figures that stride like giants across this storm-swept world.

"Alexis Wright is a member of the Waanyi nation of the southern highlands of the Gulf of Carpentaria. Her books include Grog War, a study of alcohol abuse in the outback town of Tennant Creek, and the novel Plains of Promise, which was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Prize, the "Age" Book of the Year Award and the NSW Premier's Award for Fiction, and translated into French as Les Plaines de l'espoir."

In the "Australian Book Review" Kate McFayden is impressed by the way Wright is able to incorporate an ancient story-telling technique into her novel: "Wright recognises the strength of the oral tradition as a satirical and ironic tool. The combination of storytelling on a mythic scale with the guile of the knowing look generates the energy required to drive this genius epic." You might get carried along with the story but don't expect an easy ride. "Carpentaria is that rare kind of novel which opens up an entire world to the reader, a place that is both familiar and strange. Wright expects her readers to work, to keep up. If you stumble and lose your bearings, you just have to trust the narrator and let the eddies of digression flow around you until you can regain your toehold. The rewards are plenty. It is the most exhilarating book I have read in a long time."

Liam Davidson attempts to put the book into context in his review in the "Sydney Morning Herald": "Alexis Wright's second novel is a vast, sprawling affair that extends magically beyond its hefty 500 pages. It takes you outside the expected scope of narrative time to a place that is simultaneously familiar and astoundingly new. So comprehensive is Wright's vision that reading it is like looking at her world from the inside. It's an unashamedly big book - big in scope, ambition and physical size - and
well-suited to the Gulf country it sings. It is also an important book."

Carole Ferrier finds a lot of "burlesque" humour in the book in her review in the "Australian Women's Book Review". That, and "a dry ironic humour at many points, in almost throwaway lines." She also agrees that "The novel works at many levels, through from this humour and irony to a lyrical and poetic evocation of the age-old presence of the rainbow serpent. The shifts in register produce a heteroglossia that is beautifully unified through a narration that has great confidence and authority."

On Adelaide's Writer's Radio program, Gillian Dooley casts one of the few criticisms at the book, finding that it takes some time to draw the reader in. Dooley thinks this might be a mistaken technique that might well drive away some impatient readers. However, in the end, even she finds that it is "a moving and involving book and amply rewards the reader's persistence.

Jane Sullivan profiles the author in the "Sydney Morning Herald". As target=new>does Michael Fitzgerald in "Time".

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on January 12, 2007 11:35 AM.

Great Australian Authors #38 - Marjorie Barnard and Flora Eldershaw was the previous entry in this blog.

Poem: The Bush Poet Speaks by Tom Collins (Joseph Furphy) is the next entry in this blog.

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