Kate Gaffney-Kozinski, an attractive heiress to one fortune who marries into another, is rocked by her husband Paul’s infidelity and the tragic deaths of their two children in a fire. Blaming herself for her absence during the conflagration, she abandons the “poisoned world” of Sydney and tries to ease her grief by embracing the nomadic life. In the outback, which was once an inner sea, Kate has gone underground. She seeks an escape from the burden of guilt and her husband’s corrupt and powerful family. Working as a barmaid in tiny Myambaugh’s Railway Hotel, she meets two similar escapees—an emu and her beau ideal of freedom, a young male kangaroo named Chifley.
From the rags-to-riches Gaffneys and Kozinskis to the hardscrabble lives of the outback’s inhabitants, Keneally explores the full range of modern Australian society. In the process, he presents an intriguing confrontation between good and evil—but without offering easy answers. Though Kate establishes meaningful relationships with such benevolent lawbreakers as Jelly (an explosives expert) and Gus Schulberger (a farmer), evil pursues her in the form of Paul’s henchman, Burnside.
When Chifley’s death brings her back to Sydney, Kate learns from her uncle, Frank O’Brien, that it was Paul who was responsible for the fatal fire: she was the intended victim. Though she adores Uncle Frank, a priest with decidedly venal tendencies, he is nearly as tainted as the Kozinskis. Kate, however, remains aloof from the corruption throughout the novel: she refuses to accept any money in the divorce settlement and even befriends her husband’s mistress. By the novel’s end, Kate remains an unhappy woman, but Keneally’s rich narrative creates a complex and convincing heroine who remains an admirable survivor.
Sources for Further Study
Booklist. LXXXIX, January 15, 1993, p.851.
Chicago Tribune. February 28, 1993, XIV, p.9.
Library Journal. CXVIII, February 15, 1993, p.192.
The New York Times Book Review. XCVIII, April 18, 1993, p.9.
The New Yorker. LXIX, April 5, 1993, p.111.
Publishers Weekly. CXL, January 18, 1993, p.447.
Time. CXLI, May 3, 1993, p.79.
The Times Literary Supplement. June 26, 1992, p.20.
The Wall Street Journal. March 22, 1993, p. A12.
The Washington Post Book World. XXIII, February 28, 1993, p.4.