During one of the bouts of introspection to which he becomes increasingly prone in the course of the novel, Coote says to himself: “At best I am necessity’s instrument.” The somewhat self-dramatizing tone of this statement should not be allowed to distract the reader from the conception of character it implies. At one level, it suggests that Coote acknowledges that he has been rendered powerless by force of circumstance. At another (at once complementary and contradictory) level, his thought hints that he is an agent engaged in defining the nature of things.
The fact that it is possible to regard both of these views of Coote as tenable IS one of the ultimate expressions of his status in the novel. He is an outsider who is accepted as an insider. He is an accidental murderer who, for a time, evades moral responsibility for his actions, and he is a confessed accidental murderer whom the authorities will not believe. He loves two women with equal degrees of fervor and commitment, even though the women are almost preposterously different from each other. Frequently, Coote finds himself so absorbed by the world of his immediate natural surroundings that he loses sight of who or what he is. In a very literal sense, he is the ideal protagonist of a mystery story, since he is the mystery. He is more significant for what the world of otherness evinces from him than for what he is in himself. His experience is broadened in inverse relation to his capacity to make sense of it.
Thus, he is in direct contrast to the natives of Garaross. They possess a consistency and rootedness which gives them, individually and collectively, a sense of definitive presence and a sense of belonging to the world, which Coote lacks, and of which he often bewails the lack. This down-to-earth sense is most obviously conveyed by the trove of lore which Salmo and various other locals share with Coote. More...
(The entire section is 779 words.)