Academic journal article Antipodes

Wanting

Academic journal article Antipodes

Wanting

Article excerpt

FICTION The distance between desire and need Richard Flanagan. Wanting. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2009. 256 pp. $24.00. ISBN 978-0-8021-1900-1

Great novels - even really good ones, I think - tantalize as much as (perhaps more than) they satisfy. Certainly, one of the highest aims of any novelist must be to fill readers to the brink of satiation, leaving just enough room to spark desire for the next chapter, another page, one more succulent word we can roll around, for just a bit longer, like a hard candy on the backs of our tongues. And then another, of course: just one more, please. We don't need that extra bite, that everlasting final word; we want it. It's that form of wanting, that desire for another elusive, tasty morsel when none is required, that draws us back for another helping. The other form of wanting sends us away from the table (for want of a better metaphor) in need.

In its plotting, fabula, and prevailing conceit, Wanting evokes both senses of the word. But its lingering effect on the reader recalls the latter. The interwoven, dual narrative lines, separated by half a world but only a mere decade or two, propel us forward as we anticipate and witness their convergence. We relish the blending of the legendary with the quotidian in the behind-thescenes glimpses of Dickens struggling with personal tragedy and burgeoning desire in Victorian London. As readers fond of allusion, we note historical accuracies and embellishments with an air of collusion.

In the young aboriginal girlMathinna's own Tasmanian tragedy we find those moments of lyrical beauty in the prose that remind us why we wanted this book in the first place. Flanagan is at his most brilliant when conjuring his native landscape and the beautiful chaos it comprises: "How she loved the sensation of the soft threads of fine grass feathering beads of water onto her calves, [. . .] the earth was still new and extraordinary in its delights, [. . .] and it was as possible to be exhilarated by running as it was to be terrified by the reason she had to run and not stop running" (9). Mathinna's world and innocence come alive and enthrall as vividly as her tragic fate bores through our hearts. Flanagan's rendering of Mathinna's final scenes is reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy or even Faulkner in their starkly haunting tenderness. …

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