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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

February 8th

This Week’s Review: ‘The Diviner’s Tale’ by Bradford Morrow

I was somewhat surprised when The Oz’s Geordie Williamson highlighted this book last week, making it subject of his weekly review. I’d read it a month ago, scribbled my responses, and then forgot bout it…Maybe it needed another look?, methought. Geordie was all very serious, beginning with a discussion of ‘gothic’ literature at some length.

Anyway, I noted that my excitement metre started to tick about 40 pages into this book which had arrived unsolicited just after Christmas. I’d never heard of the author. My interest was whetted when I was somehow reminded of Annie Proulx’s stories and “The Shipping News” and then of David Guterson’s “Snow Falling On Cedars”, both ‘regional America’ tomes. Unfamiliar territory was opening up as I read on. I love it when a writer captures local ‘atmosphere’ [whatever that term means, really.]
Our first-person narrator is an interesting single mother [this, by a MALE writer], Cassie [as in Cassandra: NB!] who is a water diviner or ‘dowser’. Remember them from your childhood? Every country town boasted one, I think; I remember my dad telling me about Elaine’s. Cassie’s father confides that she is the first authentic diviner in a long line, but that is probably not true. The mystery around the gift is just one of this intriguing story’s driving threads. She has “The Gift”, but also – it seems – another type of ‘seeing’: “foresight”, seeing events before they happen, sadly including the death of her beloved brother years before.

She has grown up “ …in the boondocks of Corinth County”, the surviving child of a staunchly Christian mother and equally fervid rationalist father….leading a rustically bohemian existence on the edge of the small town where she grew up.. Her work as a part-time classics teacher is supplemented by reluctant field trips to divine for local farmers…..She is widely believed to be a witch….” [from G. Williamson, “The Australian”, Feb 5-6th,p.24f.] She is forever battling to keep her “foresight” skills under control, when as an adult she happens on the body of a young girl, hanging from a tree. Unfortunately for Cassie’s credibility, the body is nowhere to be seen when the police arrive. The mystery elements of the plot kick in from here on: another girl of the same age as her ‘vision’ is found hiding near the site. In the meantime, her childhood friendship/romance with the kindly local cop re-ignites – to help or to hinder? Amid this ‘gothic’ scenario, normal reality persists; there are no TV- or movie-style histrionics. Cassie is a fairly typical mum most of the time, balancing work, the care of her lovely boys – and walking with her father who is showing the symptoms of early Alzheimer’s.

The voice Morrow creates for Cassie is at times stilted, anachronistic even, which helps maintain the off-beat style of his novel. [I was reminded of William Styron’s “The Confessions of Nat Turner”, full and biblical allusions, of archaisms.]
In his review, Williamson usefully quotes the author, Morrow: “…Emerson was right when he said that every word was once a poem. Each word is so completely evolved, evolving, used, overused, that for a writer to assemble them in a way that is somehow innovative, audacious, fulfilling, suggestive, represents an enormously dynamic event.” What a great observation!

A very interesting book. Now, I do not as a rule read ‘fantasy’-genre books: I protest that I don’t have time…Perhaps somehow ”The Diviner’s Tale” is a tribute to Victorian gothic: remember John Fowles’ “The French Lieutenant’s Woman”? That sort of book. Read it to find out.

SCORE: ***+
Bradford Morrow: The Diviner’s Tale, Corvus, pb, pp 311, rrp $ 39-95

Author Interview: Felicity Marshall author of “The Star”

This week Bernard spoke with acclaimed children’s author and illustrator FELICITY MARSHALL, published by our good friends at FORD STREET publishing.

Felicity’s latest book is “The Star”, a brilliantly illustrated ‘cautionary tale’ about Marion who falls for ‘fame’ which then ends up biting her. We agreed the book would suit 9/10-year-olds…though I think it would be quite at home on anyone’s book shelf because of the universality of its themes; the artwork alone makes it a worthwhile purchase.

We spoke briefly about Felicity’s childhood, growing up in rural Western Australia. The family included lots of journalists, Dad, and Aunt, etc – so it was perhaps inevitable that she would end up as some sort of storyteller; and the art of yarn-spinning is what links so much of country life, isn’t it?

Tertiary study in Fine Arts honed her drawing and painting skills. Felicity worked for a while in film, but soon found herself putting together pictures and stories which ended up as the substantial body of books she already has to her name. [ Google her name and you will find a feast of info, including an animated ‘taster’ of “The Star” made by her son, Leo, an up-and-coming film-maker.]

We spoke about some influences on her artistic development. Felicity constantly read lots of the traditional children’s books. Her taste in art is eclectic as is obvious from the variety of styles displayed in “The Star”: pencil drawing, gouache, oils. Of late she really appreciates the work of Portuguese painter, Paola Rega. Old favourites include classic American illustrator Norman Rockwell, and one of the more recent greats, Andrew Wyeth. It is in the detail, carefully worked over and refined, that Felicity sees the triumph of these artists.

I was intrigued by the processes of getting her pictures onto the page of the final book, and impressed to hear that one of my favourite pages of “The Star” began as a black-lead pencil drawing. Listeners may be interested to learn that the originals of much of Felicity’s work can be purchased. [Check the website.]

We chatted about the contemporary obsession with ‘reality’ TV shows, plastic fame, and the instant celebrity a la Big Brother, Hilton, Warne, etc. and agreed that it is all a bit alarming…especially when children can be heard to say that “To be famous’ is an aspiration.” Hence, Felicity’s timely book, for the forlorn Marion at the end of ”The Star”. what remains? Friends, hopefully.

Time prevented my hearing about Felicity’s newest project, but we will definitely have her back later in the year to hear about it.

Felicity Marshall’s: “The Star,” Ford Street , hb , rrp $26-95 [ Available direct from or your local book seller.]


-WORDS: I couldn’t help but ask you, listeners, whether you know the word ‘SHIBBOLETH?’ I will give a book to a listener who answers correctly before Feb 15th. Ditto if you know what ‘WIDDERSHINS’ means. Lovely word.
-And have you noticed that the term “Aborigines’ has been replaced in the press, etc. by “Indigenous”? Is this a positive step? Who decided?

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