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Woman of the Inner Sea by Thomas Keneally
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Woman of the Inner Sea (1992)

by Thomas Keneally

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I read a couple of Thomas Keneally’s novels about 25 years ago, when I was going through a craze for all things Australian, but I've rather lost sight of him since then. I don't think I was particularly impressed back then, but this book has made me rethink a bit. I will have to look a bit more closely at what he has written.

This is a rather different kind of novel from Schindler’s List and The Playmaker. The setting is contemporary (1990s), the mood is not so much polemical as affectionately satirical. Keneally sends up the stock clichés of Australianness - on the one hand the jet-setting Sydney middle classes, with their sleazy basis of gambling and political corruption underwritten by big business, the unions, the Catholic Church and the Labour Party; on the other hand the ugliness and isolation of rural small towns where “battlers” try to scrape a living in the face of the implacable forces of nature. In a plot that’s clearly meant to take the mickey out of both Patrick White and Peter Carey, Keneally has his central character, a damaged Sydney sophisticate, seek redemption by becoming a barmaid and eating a lot of greasy food. Naturally, there's an Epic Disaster Scene (with more than a hint of Henry Lawson) and a mystical relationship with a transcendental kangaroo (D.H. Lawrence!?!) thrown in for good measure.

This might all sound like too much of a good thing, but Keneally handles it surprisingly deftly. It feels like a novel that is first and foremost about someone going through a real crisis, not like a magical mystery tour of Australian Literature with a story tacked on to it. We do get to identify with Kate, despite all the bells and whistles. ( )
  thorold | Jul 23, 2013 |
Woman of the Inner Sea (1992) by Thomas Keneally represents Australia for this month's Around the World for a Good Book.

Like many Around the World for a Good Book selections it has an international flavor to it, particularly Irish as the main character Kate Gaffney-Kozinski is the daughter of Irish immigrants. Keneally goes as far as to state that Sydney is a Celtic city and the sister city of Boston (which is actually not true, Melbourne gets that honor). Also underpinning the novel is a strong Catholic identity if not Catholic fidelity as exemplified by the corrupt priest Uncle Frank. Frank at least is genial as opposed to the corrupt and evil Paul Kozinski, a construction baron and Kate's unfortunate choice in a husband. Paul's family also are immigrants from Poland, the Polish-Irish balance an important background to the story. The international flavor continues with a Greek publican and an Italian filmmaker.

The novel though is strongly Australian. At once it is personal and as large as the continent. The gleaming cities of the coast are contrasted with the rugged towns of the outback. Even a kangaroo and a emu play an important role in the story. Comically they are said to be trained to create a living tableaux of the Australian Coat of Arms. Kate's story is one of many tragic events: loss of children, self-exile to the outback, flood, death of loved one, and being the quarry in a hunt by her husband's strongman.

I haven't given too much away in the last sentence because Keneally as a strange writing device goes beyond foreshadowing to deliberately telling the reader what's going to happen later. This paired with his frequent breaking of the fourth wall and addressing the reader as "dear bookbuyer" (ironic then that I borrowed the book from a library) doesn't jibe well with me. I suppose he's trying to bring attention to the trite clichés of narrative storytelling but it comes of as snarky, even antagonistic to the reader. His story about Kate though is an interesting and moving one though.
Favorite Passages

For this was Australia, where no one trusted eloquence. Where the man of aphorism had to be watched. The elevated wit of Europe was the chain which had bound a thousand felons and provoked a million emigrations. - p. 23
He was always impatient with people who saw their own childhoods as halcyon, as ordained and not contingent, as the norm to be absolutely desired and maintained. - p. 50
Author : Keneally, Thomas.
Title : Woman of the inner sea / Thomas Keneally.
Published : London : Hodder & Stoughton, 1992. ( )
  Othemts | Jun 26, 2008 |
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A woman in her early thirties, one traveller, the handsome but slightly frowning Kate Gaffney-Kozinski, running across the rain-glossed pavement in Potts Pour, she saw from a poster in front of the closed newsagent's that her defrocked uncle had given another interview to one of those smooth-paged magazines.
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Kate, a passionate woman of great integrity caught in a nightmare of grief and deceit, flees her wealthy husband after the tragic loss of her two children. The strength she gains facing the outback enable her to confront her husband.

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