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Elim— Mssing persons section
Sue Wilson goes on a red herring chase around ljurope before fetching up Down Under with Tim Winton.
When is a mystery novel not a mystery novel'.’ When the mystery is revealed not as the narratives end. bill as its means. vv hen the conclusion to the puzzle. far from closing the lid on some pi'e-e\isting order. instead opens up .‘sllt eessi\ e new questions.
The gripping nai i'ative pull of Me lv’iu’i rs". the latest novel by leading -\.ustralian \\ riter ‘l‘iin Winton. derives largely from his skilful exploitation of the
mystery frainewoik twhieli is why I'll say nothing of
the ending), but this page-turner tension is harnessed to fuel an exploration ol much bigger. bolder eoneeins than you'll find in any whodunnit.
After scv eral years vi. .intlci'ing around liuropc. ex— pat :\u~tralian Seully. his v. ifc Jennifer and seven- yeairold daughter Billie have fallen in love with a ramshackle croft—house in rural Ireland and decided to settle there \\'liile Jennifer and Billie fly back to .-\ustralia to settle their affairs. Setilly works like a demon to refurbish the cottage before their return. But when he goes to meet them at the airport. Jennifer has disappeared. flown the coop while in transit at lleaihrow and liillie. dumb with shock.
Tim Winton: master of surprises packed with enigmas
cannot or will not tell him what has happened. Thus
j Scully and she are pitched abruptly into a headlong : liiii'ope-wide search. revisiting old haunts. trawling
desperately for clues and snatching at red herrings. :\.s Seully is forced into an agonisiiig reassessment
7 of his relationship with the woman he loves and . thought he knew. as his equally intense bond with the . daughter he‘s dragging from pillar to post is strained
to its limits. Winton uses their pell-niell pursuit of answers to di‘amatise the struggle for understanding or reconciliation between the old world and the new. between men and women. ideas and action. Not content with that. he deftly plaits into his vividly realist narrative a disquieting strand of the supernatural. in Seully's dreamlike encounters with the ghostly medieval horsemen of the title -- representing, perhaps. the unknown or unknowablc -- and in the series of weird coincidences that direct his search at crucial moments.
‘I guess in my writing l've always found that the realism and the more mythic elements come together quite naturally.‘ Winton says. ‘If you make the realism work well enough you can buy the narrative some kind of grace, whereby the reader will trust you enough to let you go that little bit further. I don't like the label magical realism '— l’ve always loved that quote from Joan l)idion. where she said she thought ol'(‘iarcia Marquez as a magical realist until she went to Colombia and realised he wasjust a journalist. I can wear that -— life's a bit too curly for realism. I think.‘
If you‘re thinking by this point that The Riders sounds like a bizarre mix of a book. you'd be right. but it‘s also a marvellous success. thanks largely to the fact that Winton does make the realism work so esti'aordinarily well. From the very first sentence you‘re right there with Scully. standing in the doorway of his inouldering cottage with the north wind at his back. Within the first page you know him
; — a man ofterrific zest. energy and optimism. with an
uncomplicated (in the beginning. anyway) belief in life's ‘cndless possibilities‘ ~ and can't help but like him. can't help but be carried along with the dizzying momentum he and Winton between them generate.
‘l wanted the reader to be propelled into the story almost like Scully is propelled. forced to move at a speed that‘s not conducive to making well thought- out decisions about what's going on.‘ Winton
; explains. ‘l wanted it so that you're kind of stuck
with him in this desperate rush forward to find out what happens — there are clues there right from the start. but you don't notice them. like Scully doesn't notice. and you‘re also living on things that seem
incredibly significant at the time but in fact aren't at llll.‘
And there. in mysterious fashion, I‘ll leave it. to avoid spoiling any surprises. Except to say that you're unlikely to find a more exhilarating. enthralling or provoking read than The Riders this year.
The Riders is published by l’ii'mlor on 24 Mare/1 at £74.99.
[ﬂiIEi—' Through a glass darkly
Looking Through Glass is a historical novel with a difference. Its narrator, a young photographer, is at first unconcerned or at least disconnected from India’s troubled past, the end of colonial rule and ambivalent benefits of Partition. But with a touch of “.6. Wells, the narrator find himself back in 1942 trying to assemble life and meaning to the events tumbling around him. Kesavan is happy to distinguish Looking Through Glass from the wealth of literature in a variety of languages that record those troubled times. ‘The novel is quasi- historical. The traditional historical novel is I feel a little over ripe in the l idea that authentic detail adds up to i the real world, which of course it i
doesn’t,’ he says. 3 Western readers will be familiar with
certain perspectives dealing with the
end of colonial rule in India: from
contemporary Indian writers satirising
the inter-racial tensions, to the
revered image of Ghandi advocating
peaceful change. But in Looking
Through Glass, Kesavan has created
: something of a hybrid novel with a
i distinctive outside observer feel to it,
and the combination of gently-paced
naturalistic prose (one of Kesavan’s
favourite novels is The (lo-Between)
and occasionally surreal imagery is a
technique that works to inspired
‘The national struggle has been satirised for years in India, in languages other than English and, although the novel is revisionist, there is little controversial about it. In many 3 ways questions about novels questioning standard interpretations of Partition would not have been asked before Rushdie,’ says Kesavan.
Like the writer of Jasmine Nights,
Mukul K'esavan: ‘the novel is revisio c.P. Somtow, Kesavan celebrates the diversity of not only his own multicultural influences but the strength creative writing can gain from a lack of literary xenophobia. And it is telling that the controversy surrounding James Kelman’s Booker award has not passed him by, hinting
as he does about the invidious expectancy of what an English novel is. ‘I understand when people say that Celtic languages have been displaced by English, since the end of British Colonial rule did actually leave behind a linguistic inheritance which can be said to be both rich and confused.’
For a debut novel, there is a remarkable surefootadness about the prose and Kesavan is acutely aware of the weight of history oh his shoulders and yet remains undaunted by it. ‘The young photographer finds himself in situations where all he can feel is a sense of epic patronage, he doesn’t want to feel it but the mere fact that he knows what is to be makes the striving against it seem so futile and so out of proportion. In the and I think it’s not just him. We all in some way condescend to history.’ (Toni Davidson)
Looking Through Glass by Mukul Kasavan is published by Chatto & Windus at £14.99 on 20 February.
The List 24 Feb-9 Mar IWS 79