Combined Reviews: Sorry by Gail Jones

sorry.jpg Reviews of Sorry by Gail Jones
May 2007

[This novel has been longlisted for the 2008 Miles Franklin Award.]

From the publisher's page

In the remote outback of Western Australia during World War II, English anthropologist Nicholas Keene and his wife, Stella, raise a lonely child, Perdita. Her upbringing is far from ordinary: in a shack in the wilderness, with a distant father burying himself in books and an unstable mother whose knowledge of Shakespeare forms the backbone of the girl's limited education.

Emotionally adrift, Perdita becomes friends with a deaf and mute boy, Billy, and an Aboriginal girl, Mary. Perdita and Mary come to call one another sister and to share a very special bond. They are content with life in this remote corner of the globe, until a terrible event lays waste to their lives.

Through this exquisite story of Perdita's troubled childhood, Gail Jones explores the values of friendship, loyalty and sacrifice with a brilliance that has already earned her numerous accolades for her previous novels, DREAMS OF SPEAKING and SIXTY LIGHTS.


Kerryn Goldsworthy in "The Age": ""The great beauty and depth of Jones' writing, in this novel as elsewhere, has simultaneous appeal for lovers of intricate, elegant thought, and lovers of verbal style. There's also a great deal of her signature literary 'sampling', with quotations, allusions and echoes from fiction and poetry vying for space inside her own sentences: Emerson, Dickinson, George Eliot and of course Shakespeare, who haunts these pages like a colossal, enchanting ghost." But there is more to Jones's work than just fine writing, "it's also hard not to read this book as Jones' own personal, formal and explicit statement of apology: to see it as a kind of enactment in fiction of her ideas about Australian race relations and reconciliation, and as a suggestion that if the country's government cannot bring itself to offer an apology then perhaps its artists, at least, might step up to fill the gap."

James Ley in "The Sydney Morning Herald": "The word 'sorry' has become so contentious in recent times that Gail Jones's decision to adopt it as the title of her fourth novel must be interpreted as a political statement. The book is, however, much more than this. It can be read as having an allegorical dimension that comments on Australia's shameful treatment of its Aboriginal population, yet it is not a political novel in the didactic style of recent works by Andrew McGahan and Richard Flanagan. Jones is not that kind of writer...Sorry
sometimes labours under its thematic burden and Jones's writing has its flaws. Her tendency to talk over her characters is less evident than in some of her earlier novels but is still there. Her frequent use of dreams, though conceptually important, can come across as a creaky fictional device. And her prose, though beautifully wrought, operates at such a consistently high pitch that it strays occasionally into pretentiousness, perhaps due to a mild contamination from the clotted theoretical prose that Jones doubtless encounters on a regular basis in her day job as lecturer in cultural studies at the
University of Western Australia...She is, nevertheless, one of the most interesting and talented novelists at work in Australia today. Her writing has flaws, in part because she is daring enough to express a complex, original and passionate vision; she writes with a belief in the power of fiction to express meanings unavailable to other forms of art or inquiry."

Kathy Hunt in "The Australian": "Technically, the main problem with Jones's
writing is that there is just too much of it. She leaves no phrase unturned in her attempt to gild what is an ordinary tale...Title or apology, Sorry is a failure. Its form has been corrupted with skill and probably the best of intentions. Unfortunately, the result is what too many people think of as good writing: the book you buy but never read, the novel you can't see for the words."

Miranda France, in "The Telegraph": "Any novelist who takes risks with language deserves to be celebrated. Jones has the nerve to use constructions that feel both arcane and new. There is no doubting her descriptive powers. However, in
some passages, words grow so luxuriantly over the story that linguistic secateurs would have come in handy...This is Gail Jones's 'sorry' to her aboriginal compatriots. I admire her for it, but for all her sincerity, her afterword elucidating the word in the context of Australian politics strikes a pious note. Mary is a powerfully drawn character, sympathetic and convincing enough to speak for herself. There was no need for the author to step in."

Michelle Griffin in "Australian Book Review": "This is a novel of ambitious seriousness, and with serious ambitions, some of which are achieved. Regardless of her academic bent, as a novelist Jones excels at structure: everything happens in this book for a reason, and its four parts fit together beautifully, meshing ideas about history, speech reading, memory and family."

Short notices

Gillian Dooley on "Writer's Radio" [PDF file]: "Gail Jones' last novel, Dreams of Speaking, was interesting and intelligent. Sorry is on an altogether higher level. It is a brilliant evocation of childhood, loss, language, humanity and inhumanity. It is poetic without being precious, and totally engrossing without any sacrifice of intellectual profundity."

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on March 28, 2008 7:56 PM.

The Art of Reviewing #6 was the previous entry in this blog.

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