Death in the family in latest R.D. Feneley novel


Connie too. She is a doctor, a toughly atheistic ex-Catholic with zero patience for Seb’s happy-clappy brand of faith-filled escapism, and she has her depths and her reasons.

Grief affects them all, including the friend she has taken to bed. She has a doughty courage about her, a sense of duty that saves her from being unfeeling. She is right, though, to feel some guilt about her emotional withdrawal from Seb during his toddlerhood when she was studying medicine, for now that Ted is gone he is doubly bereft.

Yet the novel doesn’t offer a simple “blame the mother” analysis. Feneley gives all his characters reasons. No one is perfect, and a charismatic person can be dangerous to your soul. As Hamlet said, if everyone got what they deserved, “who should ’scape whipping?”

Everyone in the book is faced with choices. The characters are chained to the consequences of free will choices they have all made, yet some have made their choices with more information than others. What that information is, and how that affects the choices, keeps one turning the pages and sometimes being surprised.


Feneley writes with immediacy and vividness. He can construct a puzzle as intriguing as any whodunnit, but it’s not a crime novel. It’s too real and too honest for shallow genre cop-outs. The depths of human motives are obviously fascinating to him, and he manages to fascinate us too.

The final passages have an almost Winton-like poetic immediacy and complexity as Ted’s many surf-club friends join Connie to scatter his ashes in the sea and are covered in them, à la the Big Lebowski, with added water.

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