Carpentaria

Carpentaria, Alexis Wright, 2006

  • Australia, #24
  • Hardcover, Alibris.com, $0.99
  • Read December 2014
  • Rating: 5/5
  • Recommended for: Vengeful ghosts, ancient mariners, environmentalists

Featured image
Sky, 2014

Carpentaria tells the story of the divided Pricklebush people in the town of Desperance, a tiny outpost marooned along the shoreline of the great Bay of Carpentaria. It is the story of Normal Phantom, open-sea fisherman and taxidermist extraordinaire, his former friend Mozzie Fishman, road-tripping prophet and the lover of Norm’s ex-wife Angel Day, and Norm’s son Will, an environmental crusader torn between the two opposing sides of his clan. It is also about the struggle for the land, between the clueless white people who live in the center and the Aboriginal people who live on the fringes, about the huge mining corporation that is engaged in destroying the Pricklebush’s most sacred places. And it is about the sea, its power to heal and destroy, its storms which dwarf the storms of human conflict.

It is a sprawling, shimmering, glorious, confusing book, a story that twists and writhes like the great serpent of the Aboriginal creation myth, the “ancestral serpent” with which Wright opens her epic novel. I was about a quarter of the way through this book before I started to follow the action. It’s one of those books that you can’t hope to parse; you just have to keep reading and let the words wash over you (the opposite of Voss, which stands up to and even requires very close re-reading and deconstruction of sentences in order to wring the meaning from its pages, Carpentaria instead asks that you allow yourself to be born along on a flood of words and let their meaning seep into your skin). Wright draws on her people’s tradition of oral storytelling to create a work that begs to be read aloud. Unlike in My Place, where this attempt to adhere to the tradition of oral storytelling results in a work that feels disjointed and juvenile, Wright has created a dense, poetic masterpiece that reads like an incantation of truth.

Monterey, 2009
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