Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A real novel

I’m astonished to see The Secret Scripture by Sebastian
Barry on the shortlist of six for this year’s Man Booker
Prize. I read it a week ago and found it a tedious slog,
fearfully overwritten and self-consciously arty. It also
contains the lamest twist I’ve come across in a novel
for a long time. Since then I’ve read The Blue by Mary
McCallum, which is a much better novel—a real novel,
not a thin idea tricked out as one—and far more
deserving of prize contention. Set in the whaling
community around Tory Channel in 1938, The Blue is
subtly written and psychologically perceptive;
McCallum has a terrific feel for location and character
and how the former can mould the latter. So powerful
is the sense of human isolation in a remote
environment—a sense reinforced by the savage war
against nature that the whale hunting represents—that
once or twice I almost felt I was reading the Woman
equivalent of Man Alone. But Lilian, the central
character, is alone not in the bush but in a much darker
place—her own private life. McCallum’s book also has a
twist but you never see this one coming. It’s a very
impressive first novel.

1 comment:

Mary McCallum said...

Well, that made my week! Thank you for an astonishing and generous review. M