Off the Bookshelf


by Murray Bail

Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 432 pp., $14 (paper)

This book's credentials are impeccable: several awards, including the National Book Council Award for Australian Literature in 1980. So why did it take 19 years for a book that won Australia's top prize to make it to the States? Maybe the folks at FSG just finished it -- while this rambling travel novel has its good points, Bail's imagery is so thick and the dialogue so cumbersome that anything but a thorough reading will bring confusion and chaos. The book's saving grace is Bail's assemblage of characters; he resists the urge to drop a group of stereotypes into the pot. Bail gives us a realistic group of tourists from down under, traipsing the globe in search of God knows what. In particular, the recently widowed zoologist has just the right mixture of crustiness and wit. Perhaps Homesickness would be better if read aloud; I'm sure Bail considers himself somewhat of a literary painter. But his words bounced around inside my skull and never found a resting place.

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