I was long overdue to read a Kate Grenville novel. She is one of Australia’s most celebrated writers, and she’s one of those authors who I’ve always meant to read but never quite got around to it. Finally, I have. I’m not sure if Dark Places, a companion novel to Lilian’s Story, was the best introduction to Grenville’s work, but it certainly is an engaging, thoughtful novel.
Albion Gidley Singer is growing up at the end of the 1800s and can’t quite grasp the ropes of being a young man. He’s never been the son his father wanted, and he is awkward and unsure every step of the way, until he comes to a startling realisation when he attends university: as long as he can play the part, no one need be any wiser as to what he’s actually thinking under his shell. So he becomes the man he thinks he always wanted to be, on the outside at least, storming through life with careful calculations and logic.
Albion is actually quite a sweet character in his youth. I found myself feeling sorry for this boy who failed to win his father’s affection, and wasn’t quite the same as all the other boys growing up. Yet this sympathy quickly evaporates as Albion grows into a man. He refuses to remember the boy he once was and becomes everything he always despised, not so different from the father he could never connect to growing up.
I did enjoy the novel, but I found it dragged in places, which dramatically slowed down the story progression. There is no doubt that Grenville is a talented writer, who wrings each word out as far as possible to get the most out of every sentence, but the story is slow-moving and, while the payoff is there in the end, it felt a long time coming. Still, I’m intrigued to go on and read Lilian’s Story, which will hopefully shed more light on the events which take place in Dark Places.
First published Pan Macmillian Australia, 1994
This edition published by Text Publishing, 2012