Ventura Press, Australia, 2018
Angela Meyer will appear at the Terror Australis festival in Cygnet Tasmania between 1 and 3 November 2019
Richly redolent of Mann and Kafka, this is a disturbing surreal debut novel by Angela Meyer.
Two principal characters occupy this story – Leonora Duncan in the 1860s in Scotland and the person we eventually learn to be Jeff in a just slightly future present, a dying man who moves from Australia to Scotland to escape his own life and the possible surveillance of the unnamed authorities. He is in search of release and freedom in a way, but is unable to govern his own parasitic desires.
He also goes there to better inhabit the mind and body of his selected ‘host’, Leonora. Shifting between third and first person, the author subtly changes our viewpoint and plants us in the heads of both of these people of her book.
For Jeff this is very much about deliberate exploitation and he is conscious of this. Leonora will never understand what is happening to her self. Interestingly both characters are curious about the world, about the mind and the body, but Leonora is a victim in this scenario, albeit a strong and worthy one.
There are several other well-developed themes in this eerie tale, which takes some of its motifs from classic fairy tale traditions with the magical three. Notably, Leonora’s love for and need of nature and animals contrasts strongly with the futuristic urban landscape and its potentially dangerous technology.
The matter of love and relationships is another, with Leonora’s and Jeff’s contrasting capacities for love, and explorations of other ways of relating in William, the Laird, in Leonora’s father and in Bethea, the Scottish woman, who takes charge of Jeff in the latter part of the story.
There are also explorations of the newly developing science of psychiatry and in the emergence of women in the field of medicine as well as in spiritualism, a practice relatively common in the historical context of this book.
This is a challenging read – it’s difficult to live through Leonora’s pain and Jeff’s self-absorbed sexuality. It’s well worth the intellectual investment however and I am happy to say, without revealing too much, that there is a happier and ending than we might have anticipated.