The Clay Dreaming
This novel is set in London in May 1868 during the tour by the first Australian cricket team ever to come to England. The team members were all Aboriginal. A member of the team, Brippoki, also known as King Cole, comes into contact with Sarah Larkin, a woman who spends time at the British Library by day and by night looks after her ill and querulous father. After contact with Brippoki (in circumstances that slightly stretch credibility), Sarah begins to research the life of Joseph Druce/William Bruce, an English convict. Bripokki’s life descends into a spiritual nightmare as he explores his Dreaming along the banks of the Thames. Sarah, trying to eke out a small allowance to cover food and rent while caring for her father, becomes absorbed in the life of Druce/Bruce. Outside Sarah’s house, some of the action takes place in the stews of East London, Greenwich and along the river bank.
It is an intriguing tale that, subject to judicious editing, would have been a good, literary page-turner. Sadly, it is too long and too confused for that, as if a good non-fiction history collided with a novel. The research may be impeccable, and the handling of Aboriginal spirituality sensitive and lyrical, but the result is a long, often rambling and directionless narrative with too much ‘telling’ and not enough ‘showing’, as if the author could not bear to exclude any of his research material. This novel could have been astonishing, especially since the handling of Brippoki’s life is so well observed. It is a great pity that it is not.