Moving among strangers : Randolph Stow and my family by Gabrielle Carey
St. Lucia, Qld : University of Queensland Press, 2013 ISBN 9780702249921
This book is a memoir with a difference. Gabrielle Carey is most well-known for being the co-author of Puberty blues, a very famous rite-of-passage novel here in Australia (also made into a popular film). Carey has written other books, including In my Father's house, an attempt to come to terms with her Father's suicide.
I haven't read any of Carey's previous work, but was drawn to this book because I, like many other Australians (including Carey), feel that Randolph Stow was and is possibly Australia's finest novelist. Carey's Mother, Joan (nee Ferguson) was a lifelong friend of Stow, having lived in Western Australia in Geraldton with Stow and his family.
Carey was drawn to write this book after getting in touch with Stow to let him know of the impending death of her Mother from cancer. She exchanged some letters with him before he too died in 2010. In a strange way his death led Carey, who had grown up in Sydney, to travel across to Western Australia to not only try to connect with Stow, but also to the long-estranged branches of her family who still resided there.
The intertwined threads of the Carey, Ferguson and Stow families form the basis of what is a moving paen to what was, and what might have been. Carey's surprise at finding that her Mother was much more independent than she thought, and her wonderful descriptive writing when confronted with the decaying wrecks of farmhouses that form such an integral part of Stow's writing and her family history make reading this book a joy.
What strikes Carey most about the Stow's writing is how he strives for the spiritual: the religiosity of his novels was something that was noted at the time they were published, to some disdain amongst Australian critics. Stow, striving for a rootedness he couldn't find in Western Australia, moved to England, the home of his ancestors, and spent most of his life either in "exile", or at "home", depending on one's viewpoint.
Carey journeyed to seek out those that knew Stow, in East Bergholt and Harwich, but finds no further answers to the questions she has about the man: questions he avoided answering whenever he was asked directly, and that resist answers after his death. The journey that Carey has undertaken in writing this book has led her to places she didn't know about - her parents' lives contained many stories she was never told - life in Geraldton was almost a universe away from her childhood - and that Randolph Stow (known as Mick to the Careys), has left his body of work as the only explanation for his life.
If you love Stow as I do, this is well worth reading. If you don't love Stow, read him and you will.
Cheers for now, from
A View Over the Bell