cover image A Woman of the Inner Sea

A Woman of the Inner Sea

Thomas Keneally. Nan A. Talese, $21 (277pp) ISBN 978-0-385-46795-7

The latest effort from Booker Prize-winning Australian author Keneally (Schindler's List, The Playmaker , etc.) is one of his best. He sets it on native turf and uses glimpses of his homeland's history, folkore and natural wonders to lift intriguing events to the level of riveting, sophisticated thriller. Based on fact and infused with Keneally's colorful imagination, the story follows Kate Gaffney-Kozinski, wife of a wealthy construction empire scion and mother of two, through the disintegration of her marriage, the deaths of family members, and her ``transformation'' as a barmaid at the Railway Hotel in Myambagh, far inland from the coastal Sydney of her early life. Under the avuncular eye of the pub owner and his not-so-friendly wife, Kate settles into this bastion of ranchers, sheep shearers and barflies and takes up with softhearted pensioner Jelly (short for gelignite: dynamite). When Kate's husband's goon Burnside--a finely drawn personification of the banality of evil--shows up with divorce settlement papers, Myambagh is struck by one of the periodic floods for which it is famous. Kate suffers another loss and she must flee again into the outback--this time with Jelly's friend Gus and his pet emu and kangaroo. Keneally displays a rueful appreciation for the double-edged sword of language in his retelling of an aboriginal tale in which the animals decide to give the word beast to humans. And as he brilliantly illustrates how the best-laid plans can go awry, he demonstrates that the true test of people is in how they cope with life's major and minor catastrophes. (Mar.)