Friday, 14 October 2011

The Australian Season: Due Preparations for the Plague

Janette Turner Hospital's novel  tackles the themes of terrorism and international espionage on a personal scale. Due Preparations for the Plague, a title borrowed from Daniel Defoe, suggests that it might be possible to prepare ourselves for unspeakable natural disaster. Her novel painstakingly unpicks this assumption until it is in tatters and we know ourselves to be helpless, if not for love.

This is a novel packed with literary and philosophical allusions, which  set it apart from traditional thriller material. Like her other novels, it has a mythic quality, a chorus of narrative voices, which serve to shift the focus, move the action along, and provide a tragic commentary. It shares with her other novels, perhaps especially The Last Magician, an unsettling preoccupation with fate and whether we can avoid it, whether in fact it is ever possible to make due preparations. Her writing is lyrical, elegiac even, but this is a novel with both pace and suspense. Much of the suspense we feel is, inevitably, informed by our memories of 9/11. This is also the site of the novel's greatest elision. We learn nothing of the political motivations of the hijackers. What we attend to is the small reparations that people make towards each other, the redemptive quality of love to connect us in ways that are as equally complex and mysterious as the sinister political connections which also rule our lives. Due Preparations is thrilling, risky, and undeniably moving, it may have a flawed core if one insists on a hard-nosed political reading, but it nevertheless is a tremendous novel.

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