(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

It is significant that PALOMINO begins with a love letter that is never to be mailed, for the protagonist of the novel is a veteran of unfulfilled relationships, in which the women she loves reject her for men. In the monologues, letters, and diary which follow that initial letter, Elizabeth Jolley traces the love affair between the lonely, discredited physician Laura and young Andrea Jackson, a shipboard acquaintance whom Laura takes to her Australian ranch. Both of the women have past failures to deal with: for Andrea, a hopeless love for her own brother; for Laura, repeated rejections and an aborted career. Together, they are happy, Andrea in Laura’s protective tenderness, Laura in Andrea’s youth and gaiety, both in the physical expression of their feelings. When Andrea admits that she is pregnant with her brother’s child, however, and begs Laura to perform an abortion, Laura realizes that the idyll is over. Chosing to forestall the slow souring of their relationship by separating, the women agree to part.

Although PALOMINO lacks the broad farcical scenes of other Jolley novels, revealing character more through thoughts than through actions, its pattern is typical of Jolley, both in the isolated setting, which enables her to concentrate on psychological interaction, and in the importance of the external landscape, which reflects the mood and the plight of her characters. Thus Laura’s isolated ranch symbolizes her own isolation and that of all people. Thus, too, the return of spring at the end of the book symbolizes her own regeneration, her new capacity to love.