One of Australia's most highly acclaimed and versatile writers, Malcolm Knox has published six books, including The Greatest: The players, the moments, the matches 1339-2008. The former literary editor of The Sydney Morning Herald, Malcolm won a Walkley award in 2004 for the expose of fraudulent author Norma Khouri. He was runner up for Journalist of the Year 2004 and was named one of 2001's Best Young Novelists by the Sydney Morning Herald for his first novel, Summerland.
From the first sentence of this debut novel, Australian journalist Knox heavily samples The Good Soldier, Ford Madox Ford's underread masterpiece. It's a bewildering move: Knox isn't following the current fad of retelling a classic from another character's point of view; he's simply plunking down Ford's 1915 English novel in modern-day Australia, and it doesn't fit. As in The Good Soldier, the "sad story" is told by the dimwitted cuckolded husband (here named Richard), misperceiving the long-term love affair between his wife (here, Pup) and his best friend (here, Hugh Bowman Jr., agribusiness heir). When Hugh's wife (here, Helen) finds out, she sadistically attempts to manage the affair, leading to tragic results. Much of this novel is devoted to the peripatetic social activities of the two rich, beautiful married couples: fortnights at the "dynastic Bowman shack at Australia's Palm Beach," visits to posh restaurants and nasty strip clubs, vacations in London. Wherever they go, they shine ("We had the appearance of those mythical people in brochures. The sky was always clear, the lighting just so. Have I mentioned how tall we were?"). It doesn't make sense that these perfect, privileged four can't have exactly what they want: unlike Ford's characters, they are not hemmed in by religion, fin-de-si?cle convention or Edwardian "sentiment," so their passions seem artificially thwarted. And their self-awareness grates. Knox overplays his hand by having them reserve tables under the name "Mr. Gatsby and group" and casting Pup as the wannabe writer who plagiarizes none other than The Good Soldier (notes Richard: "Perhaps I should read it. It was, apparently, quite a famous book"). Knox's plummy writing is artful, and his command of the plot's tricky structure is impressive, but this overly precious, unconvincing story reads like an academic exercise. (June) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.