Flippant, breezy, offhand, the narrative voice of Belle, the 40-ish protagonist of Astley's dazzling new novel, seductively snares the reader in episodic vignettes that record her life. Cheerfully neglected by her scatterbrain mother, a drummer in a two-woman band, Belle, who has never has known her American trumpet-playing father, grows up lonely and bored in the Australian outback. Abortive careers and a failed marriage leave Belle feeling like a permanent outsider. Craving an ``emotional center,'' she becomes obsessed with long-dead archetypal settler Gaden Lockyer, whose photograph she comes across in library archives and whose life she decides to trace. As the narrative tone darkens, Belle veers close to a breakdown as she tries to reenter the past--literally and metaphysically--through a life-size poster of Lockyer, who was, successively, a banker, farmer and crooked politician, and who ended his days in a nursing home in the town of Tin River. The novel closes on a forlorn but hopeful note as Belle, still holding the reader mesmerized, begins to come to terms with her emotional neediness. Few writers can equal Astley ( It's Raining in Mango ) in conveying the physical, social and moral landscape of Australia, or in scattering dazzling imagery on every page. Recently the winner of Australia's Patrick White Award for lifetime achievement in literature, three-time recipient of the Miles Franklin Award, Astley should break through to a wider American audience with this beautifully written novel. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 03/31/1990 Release date: 04/01/1990 Genre: Fiction
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