Alex Miller, Landscape of Farewell (Allen & Unwin 2007)
In the first couple of pages, it seemed to hit wrong note after wrong note. Just two examples, tiny in themselves, but part of a cumulative effect that left me simply not believing in the characters: an elderly German professor, meditating on the notion of honour, remembers that somewhere in the bible, probably in the New Testament, we are told to honour our father and our mother; a young Australian History professor asks that same man what his father did in the war, and when he reacts with shock says it was just a piece of Australian humour. Just what planet do you have to be an academic on not to know the Ten Commandments, or that Germans of a certain age might not like to be asked by complete strangers about their family’s relationship to Nazism.
In spite of encountering some fine prose and being invited to confront difficult realities, I never recovered from the blow my trust received in those first pages. The book’s centrepiece is a powerful account of a meticulously planned massacre of white settlers in North Queensland by Aboriginal men in reprisal for the unwitting violation of a sacred site. Everything else seems to be there to justify this piece of writing. It didn’t work for this little white duck. I was left with an uneasy feeling that some kind of equivalence was being proposed between the Aboriginal action and unnamed actions taken by German operatives during the Second World War. I’m sorry, but my response, in a word, is ‘Ewww!’
My Book Group is to discuss this book at our next meeting. Since the meeting is on the evening of the day I get home from a month in France, I may not make it. If I do, I’ll let you know what other people thought.