Utopian Man

Lisa Lang, Author
Lisa Lang. Allen & Unwin (IPG, dist.), $16.95 trade paper (248p) ISBN 978-1-74237-334-8
Open Ebook - 256 pages - 978-1-74269-122-0
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Lang draws from her own biography of the larger-than-life Edward William Cole (E.W. Cole: Chasing the Rainbow) for her engaging and buoyant debut novel, a cinematic historical. In 1883, in Melbourne, Australia, Cole opens Cole’s Book Arcade, an extravagant bookstore that he hopes will become “a place of wonder.” Suspecting that “it was just unnatural, in an evolutionary sense, living on his own,” he places a newspaper advertisement soliciting a wife, receiving plenty of replies (some angry), though only one from an actual prospect: Eliza. Though Cole is “shocked” by Eliza’s plainness, he marries her and in time dotes, perhaps too much, on the five children she bears him. Neither an economic depression, nor the death of a daughter from scarlet fever can deter Cole’s Barnum-like showmanship and drive; he establishes a tea salon and imports marmoset monkeys to enliven the Arcade and lure crowds. Cole does well in business but is ridiculed as “an oddball entertainer”; he also feels “the lead weight of guilt” and failure when he discovers that his namesake son has become addicted to opium. As Cole grows older and frailer, seeming to enjoy his pet monkeys more than his family, he obsesses over the fate of “his singular, beloved life’s work,” the Arcade. (Nov.)
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