Thursday, April 25, 2013

Lost Voices by Christopher Koch

" Late in life, I've come to the view that everything in our lives is part of a pre-ordained pattern. Unfortunately it's a pattern to which we're not given the key. It contains our joys and miseries; our good actions and and our crimes; our strivings and defeats. Certain links in this pattern connect the present to the past. These form the lattice of history, both personal and public; and this is why the past refuses to be dismissed. It waits to involve us in new variations; and its dead wait for their time to reappear."

After fifty years Hugh Dixon has returned to Hobart, Tasmania and as he wanders the suburban streets he reflects on the past - his early childhood and his schooldays in the 1940 - 50's.

When he is 18 his father, Jim, finds himself in serious financial trouble and even though Jim has been estranged from his family for a long time Hugh decides to approach his great-uncle Walter for help. 

Walter is a successful lawyer but lives alone at Leyburn Farm, the estate built by the Dixons who were among the early non-convict settlers in Hobart. Hugh's visit is the first of many. Walter recognises and encourages his artistic talent and takes pleasure in educating him in art and literature. He also tells Hugh of the family connection to a notorious 19th century bushranger, Lucas Wilson.

The second part of the story goes back to the 1850's and Hugh's great-grandfather, Martin. At dinner one evening the family is raided by two escaped convicts on their way to join Lucas. An aspiring writer, Martin sees an opportunity for an exclusive interview with the bushranger and persuades them to take him with them.

A former guardsman transported for striking a senior officer, Lucas Wilson is an educated and charismatic man who, in the wilderness beyond Hobart, is attempting to build a utopia; a community of equal opportunity which he calls Nowhere Valley. 

The third and final part returns to the 1950's and Hugh's work as an illustrator for a newspaper and his reunion with old schoolfriend, Bob Wall. When Bob is accused of murder great-uncle Walter is called in to help.

What ties the two narratives together are the repeating patterns: conflict between fathers and sons , young men in love with older women, good men and two very evil men.

Lost Voices is a book with so much detail it deserves to be read slowly. I have been to Tasmania and Chrisotpher Koch captures its  unique atmosphere, where reminders of its harsh and violent past stand in landscapes of great beauty, perfectly. 1950's nostalgia, art and literature, bushrangers and gunfights - so much to savour.

I loved it! The best historical novel I've read in a long time.

What's In A Name Challenge 6 ( lost or found in the title)

Australian Literature Month hosted at Reading Matters.

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