Tuesday, March 2, 2010


The novel was launched by Ian Britain
in February 2010

Ian: "These days I give a new novel I may pick up about twenty minutes to get me hooked. I give it up after that if I’m not confident of two things: that it’s going to be about everything, and that I’m going to find myself coming into it. ‘My idea of a writer,’ says Susan Sontag, is ‘someone interested in everything.’

Carmel Bird’s new novel is not just about everything but is set in everyone’s favourite places and written in every manner and mode. There’s birth, death, sex, religion, art, food, fashion, war, family, schooldays, technology, magic, innocence, crime, love, pain and the whole damned thing. There’s Sydney, Melbourne, New York, Rome, Venice, Paris, Barcelona, Portugal, Mexico, Gethsemane and Woodpecker Point. And it’s all wrapped up in a style that, with brilliant, knowing playfulness, makes Gothic and Grand Guignol seem colloquial, normal, everyday, while lending a sublimity to cliché, a transcendence to bathos.

My favourite character, lethally portrayed, is a headmistress, Dr Silver, who’s a Mrs Malaprop of platitudes. ‘Medieval legend or soap?’ the narrator asks at one point. We get the best of both worlds here, as Dr Silver might answer. But it’s true. Where in this fantastic confection could I possibly find myself? As it turns out, in several strands of the plot, and in various aspects of nearly all the characters, even minor ones. The action centres around the hunt for a missing religious statue, and celebrates the ‘thrill of getting control of an object that should be out of your reach’.

Only a few weeks before I came to read this book I was involved in a hunt, not for a sacred object, but a very profane one – the missing diaries of a notorious artist whose biography I’m writing. These had been missing for nearly 65 years. Through extraordinary luck I turned them up in the most unlikely place.

Carmel Bird’s novel not only captures the thrill of the chase, the fanatical urge, the mad hope that I came to feel so keenly but also the inordinate sense of miracle when the grail is actually located. But this is only one of multitudinous connections I found with my own life, career, sensibility. ‘I am drawn to secret autobiography expressed in code,’ says the narrator at another point. Any other reader, I’m convinced, will find his or her own autobiography here too.

It’s spooky, but this book knows you better than you’ll ever know this book. That’s part of its enduring mystery, both in the sense of a deeply spiritual drama and the curliest crime fiction. Thus does it combine in one the two genres of which Carmel has long been a recognised master. Rush out to buy it and be spooked."

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