It's probably not the first time an author has provided an explication in essay form of his or her latest work, but the announcement last week of the 2007 Miles Franklin award reminded me that I had yet to fully read Alexis Wright's essay in HEAT 13 on her winning novel, Carpentaria.
I read Carpentaria for myself and reviewed it in 200 words for the Big Issue here in Melbourne four months ago now, after extracting a promise from the books editor that I could review it here as well later on. I'm sorry I've let so much time slip without organising my thoughts on this exciting work at greater length - 200 words is indeed haiku when it attempts to speak of a novel that reaches effortlessly across cultures, mines contemporary cultural research and resonates as extensively through collective memory as this one.
It was helpful to go from my first reading of Pynchon's seventies opus, Gravity's Rainbow, into this gorgeous Rainbow Serpent of a tale. There are stylistic issues common to both which are easier to handle if you're already in the groove of reading across many voices and viewpoints, although Carpentaria is more approachable than that other, not much heftier Rainbow. In her essay for HEAT, Wright speaks of her attempts to create an authentic storytelling style using local voices and rhythms from the Gulf area of Northern Australia resulting in heavily visual storytelling and writing. She evokes a powerful, probably perfect image to describe the results of her efforts:
...the written form is also visual in that it looks something like a spinning, multi-stranded helix of stories...The helix of divided strands is forever moving, entwining all stories together, just like a lyrebird is capable of singing several tunes at once.