The Lost Life – Steven Carroll


This book was picked by another member of my book club based on a review in The Australian.

Steven Carroll won the Miles Franklin award in 2008 for The Time We Have Taken.

We all decided we should read something Australian – although this one is set entirely in England.

Here’s the blurb …

England, September 1934

Two young lovers, Catherine and Daniel, have trespassed into the rose garden of Burnt Norton, an abandoned house in the English countryside. Hearing the sound of footsteps, they hide, and then witness the poet T.S. (?Tom?) Eliot and his close friend Emily enter the garden and bury a mysterious tin in the earth.

Tom and Emily knew each other in America in their youth; now in their forties, they have come together again. But Tom is married, and his wife has no intention of letting him go. What is it that binds Tom and Emily together? What happens when the muse steps out of the shadows?

In the enclosed world of an English village one autumn, their story becomes entwined with that of Catherine and Daniel, who are certain in their newfound love and full of possibility.

From one of Australia?s finest writers, this is a moving, lyrical novel about poetry and inspiration, the incandescence of first love and the yearning for a life that may never be lived.

This novel just felt awkward to me. The writing didn’t flow and at times the narrative jumped around in time. For example, the description of the secret ceremony was told from two different points of view, but the transition from the first to the second was clumsy.

Most of this novel is written from a female perspective and I didn’t fine Catherine or Emily Hale’s inner thoughts at all believable (more like wishful thinking on the part of the author).

For example,

It is a woman, or was once a woman. For this young woman, Catherine, is making old, old sounds, sounds that existed long before houses and estates and trimmed rose gardens. Long before sweet music, stained-glass windows that glow with a touch of heaven, or even fine uplifting words that allow us to rise above it all, for it is a sound that goes back beyond words. It is a sound that takes us back to the grunt and the moan.

These are Emily’s thoughts when she overhears Catherine and Daniel making love in the next bedroom (a situation engineered by Emily).

I did, however, appreciate some of Catherine’s insights. Such as

Poems, novels, short stories, Catherine would say[…], give people the lives they will never live and fill them with a yearning for something¬† else, something more. A way of living in the world that doesn’t yet exist. Doesn’t yet exist, but dreaming about it just might make it so.

My overwhelming conclusion after reading this novel is that Steven Carroll must be a baby boomer! He must have lived through the sexual revolution – my mother in law would probably love this book.

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