Told in the first person by “the acolyte,” Paul Vesper, Thea Astley’s novel traces the career of a fictional Australian musician and composer named Jack Holberg. Beginning in obscurity as a piano player in Grogbusters, a dreary little Queensland town, the blind Holberg eventually gains international recognition as a composer. Vesper, who had met Holberg during his less renowned period, gives up an engineering career to serve the great man—in a sense, to become his eyes.
After Holberg spends several years studying in Europe and making a name for himself, he returns to Australia, where the home audiences acclaim his work, impressed with its success abroad. Holberg marries Hilda, one of the two sisters he and Vesper knew during the early days, and settles with her, with Vesper, and with his aunt in a spectacular house along the Pacific coast not far from Surfers Paradise, a famous Australian resort. In this idyllic setting, Holberg composes, assisted by Vesper; Hilda acts the perfect wife; and Sadie pursues her gambling interests in nearby Surfers Paradise. Vesper and his entourage create their own paradise where art dominates, all activity centers on Holberg and his composition, friends gather, and everyone lives in harmony. At first they succeed, but before long, the Eden they have attempted to build develops flaws.
Altogether immersed in another man’s genius, Vesper begins to question his own individuality. Hilda ignores her...
(The entire section is 448 words.)