To the Islands by Randolph stow

to the islands

To the Islands by Randolph Stow

Australian fiction

Source – personnel copy

aussie lit month

Randolph Stow is one of those writers I feel that time is forgetting I only heard about him a few years ago when this book was considered one of the best Australian novels on the old ABC book show .He won the Miles franklin the year after Patrick white did with Voss in 1958 the second winner of the prize with this book .I looked up and he has been described by one person as the Australian Camus .Anyway he lived in the uk from the mid seventies and died a couple of years ago .This book was revised in 1991 but my copy is the old Australian Penguin version from 1962 .

I am an old man ,an old man .J’ai plus de souvenirs que si j ‘ avais mille ans ,and this cursed .Baudelaire whining in his head like a mosquito ,preaching despair .How does a man grow old who had made no investment in the future ,without wife or child ,without refuge for his heart beyond the work that becomes too much for him ?

Very good bit of existentialist angst here I felt

I read both Kim and Lisa’s review of this book and Knew it was one I would love .SO what is it about well the action is set in worth west western Australia in a Mission that is run by the church (you just know how this is going to go ,don’t you  ) ,this is for the Aboriginals to use (be converted they meant  no matter what the cost  ) anyway the mission is run by Stephen Heriot ,this guy fits you typical missionary view he sees the Aboriginals as people to covert but years in the desolate place has changed him into a twisted man anyway the is a man he has had run in with over the years Rex an aboriginal he has had run in with in the past and he considers evil anyway ,he ends up killing him and Heriot goes on the run  but what happens next ?.

Without bending ,without touching him :”dead” ,said Heriot ,feeling in himself the thickening of blood ,the stiffening and relaxing of fingers . Rex –

The moment the book turns .

Well this book has so many themes it hard to cover them all , Christianity and Aboriginals this isn’t just a Australian thing it can be seen in a wider context of africa and Asia .Heriot a man in crisis is a classic figure of existential fiction a man questioning – What he did ,who he is and why he is ? easy to see why he had been called the Australian Camus .Heriot could easily be a  character from say Camus or Beckett  .then we have ,Culture clash the white folk as they are often called here by the aboriginal as there views on life differ greatly thus cause a build up of tension especially in Heriot  .For me one of the  things I loved was the Language this is something I really loved, Stow’s voice especially the dialogue which to me as an English reader sound very authentic like the “old days  ” Aussie we used to hear in my youth thirty years ago  ,to coin a term ,he used some terms which now seem very out-of-place but were in common usage at the times ,these I believe have been to some extent removed in the revised edition which is shame lisa did not she would like to she what was cut and I will second this myself ,I feel books may date to me this hasn’t te themes at its core are still the same today maybe not in Australia but elsewhere ,the terms are of the time and added for me as a reader .As for him being like Patrick White he is a bit but when he wrote this at just 22 he hadn’t read White’s Voss .

Have you read this ?

April 2013


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