The Grisly Wife

Rodney Hall, Author Farrar Straus Giroux $20 (261p) ISBN 978-0-374-16704-2
A timely, haunting drama of utopian dreams confronted with baleful reality, Hall's new novel captures the bizarre appeal of religious cults. Catherine Byrne marries self-proclaimed prophet Muley Moloch and leaves 19th-century England with him and his eight female disciples to search for paradise on earth in the wilds of Australia. But life as a prophet's wife is not all that Catherine had expected; her first-person narration recounts a shipwreck, illness, death and outbursts of jealousy among the disciples. Muley's visionary charisma leads the group ever farther from civilization but does not draw them together, nor do the shared hardships of settling the wilderness, building two houses (one for Muley, one for the nine women, called the Household of Hidden Stars) and coping with apparitions that stare at them from the edges of the forests. After Muley disappears on a mysterious voyage, Catherine begins to see the apparitions more clearly; she alternates between enchantment and fear, wondering what is real and what is imagined. When the police arrive to investigate a brutal murder, Catherine vents her anger and frustration in a high-pitched, almost inchoate account of deception, betrayal, holy and unholy mysteries (including purported virgin births), and, finally, redemption. Hall chooses to convey Catherine's almost demented narrative voice in terse sentences punctuated mainly by dashes, a device that readers may find distracting but that builds to a near-hysterical intensity. Those familiar with such earlier novels as Kisses of the Enemy and The Second Bridegroom will recognize Hall's distinctive combination of magical realism, psychological penetration and astute social observation that makes this Australian author's work so consistently interesting. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 08/30/1993
Release date: 09/01/1993
Genre: Fiction
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