A Stolen Season by Rodney Hall
Sydney, Picador, 2018 ISBN 9781760555443
Rodney Hall is one of Australia's pre-eminent authors and poets, with a swag of work to his name: I have reviewed on this blog the magnificent The Island in the Mind, and so was very keen to read his new book, which, as it turns out, is very different to the afore-mentioned title but still good. While the subject matter is completely different to The Island in the Mind, the structure of the work has some similarities, being an intertwined set of stories about different characters.
The main thread of the book centres around Adam & Bridget. Adam was a soldier in the Australian Army in Iraq, who has been horribly injured by a missile strike, so much so that it has taken years for him to be well enough to come home, and so much so that he requires a mechanical "body" to be able to move at all, and requires constant attention to be able to feed and so on. The book starts with him coming back to his wife Bridget, and their house in Melbourne. It soon becomes clear that their marriage was essentially over before Adam left for war, and that Bridget has had a romance in the time he's been gone.
So the story revolves around Adam coming to terms with his new self, and asking questions about why he and other soldiers were in Iraq in the first place, and around Bridget's crisis of living not only with a man she no longer loves, but a man who is a more-or-less completely helpless bag of reconstructed flesh. She wants to leave, but feels obliged to stay. Her anguish at her situation, and for Adam's injuries, tears at her, while Adam grapples with the thought that it might have been better if the missile had killed him. Their mutual problems are not helped by their neighbour Yao, who Bridget is falling for, and her lover Ryan, who runs a TV interview show and is desperate to get Adam on the air.
This story is intertwined with another, of Marianna, a middle-aged dance teacher, who has found love late in life, only to lose it. She is on the run, why and from whom is not clear, and has made it to Belize, where she intends to climb a Mayan pyramid to await the end of days. As she moves toward her goal we find that her life has been hard, and to find that her new partner was not all that he said he was, was the final straw.
The centrepiece of the work is the story of John Philip Hardingham, a member of one of Australia's patrician families, whose strange inheritance gives him the chance to make his own mark on the World, rather than be a minor ghostly figure in a family of note.
These two peripheral stories are only tenuously connected to the tale of Adam & Bridget (Marianna requires a blood transfusion and Adam is the only person with her blood-type, and one of Adam's army platoon who has a major role in one of the flashbacks that is related in the book happens to attend a function with John Philip), and are complete in themselves.
Hall, with his usual exact choice of language and wonderful descriptive writing, explores the morality of the war in Iraq, and the internal morality of his characters, how they react to their situations, and how their situations shape them. He explores the loyalty the characters show to their families and partners, and how they grapple with being loyal to themselves at the same time.
This is quite a moving book, with a shocking ending which I won't reveal here. It is also an interesting book in terms of its structure and language.
Worth a look.
Cheers for now, from
A View Over the Bell