Early on I almost gave up on this. I started keeping a list on the endpapers of some of the use of language that particularly irked me. Her language is rendered beautiful by its ornate imprecise superfluity. Overall I disagree with this approach. Language can be beautiful without being overdone. If this book had been a picture I would have hated it. Far from adding clarity, her overuse of words led to ambiguity which I do not believe was intentional.
I had never heard of the well-known Gail Jones until I went to see her talk with Coetzee and others recently. Her voice was odd and not entirely pleasing to me. Yet I wanted to listen. Strangely, that seems to reflect her style of writing, if this book is to be the judge.
I don’t believe that the structure of the book worked either. It was too unbalanced. There was no real interaction between the two main characters to justify that structure. Nor am I convinced by the panorama of it all. The wide range of the period, throw in Melbourne, WA mining town, the Surrealists having a ball in France. World War II. London then, London now. Not surprisingly perhaps, I found her most convincing in Australia – the parts set in Melbourne and WA are best.
All this we could sum up as ‘trying too hard’.
Having said all that, there were long moments where the elegiac style was perfect. She created vivid pictures of everything she described and characterisation was less convincing but not awful.
Overall one sees the potential of the author in this first novel and one reads it expecting more of future efforts. I will try another to test this theory.