Prize-winning Australian writer Astley (The Slow Natives) has written another chronicle in which domestic lives are lived at uncomprehending cross-purposes and disappointing offspring exact petty revenge. But while this new novel bears her trademark wit, it is more sour and downbeat than most of her previous work. Here Astley suggests that the aged have no place in an increasingly fragmented society. Widowed and elderly, Kathleen is starting to lose her bearings. Alienated from her grown children and isolated from all meaningful human contact, she roams the town mall, recalling the past: her dismal marriage and unfulfilling existence. Meanwhile, her son Brain (formerly Brian) indulges in one money-losing scheme after another, and her mean, selfish daughter, Shamrock, sells Kathleen's house and possessions and consigns her mother to a home. Astley paints a bleak portrait of contemporary Australia, a land of malls, automobiles and disrupted families. Even lovers seem never quite to connect, and a number of Astley's characters resort to grand and finally meaningless gestures to reaffirm their existence-at least to themselves. With every major character paralyzed in some way, this is a difficult novel to love; in addition, the flashbacks and shifts from Kathleen's viewpoint to her son's are sometimes confusing. Still, sparks of humor provide balance, humanizing a fictional landscape that otherwise promises little hope or compassion. (Sept.)
Acclaimed Australian writer Astley (The Slow Natives, LJ 9/1/93) turns her characteristically elegant prose to an examination of the predicaments of aging, as personified by Kathleen, an elderly widow facing loss within herself and without. Taking tea in a mall, appearing to others as mildly eccentric, perhaps a shade dottier than many forgetful oldsters, she ruminates as best she can on her limited choices for shaping what future is left. Kathleen's grown children regard their mother more as a problem than a person, which makes it easier for them to sell her house and furnishings behind her back, euthanize her dog, and arrange a new "home" for her at Passing Downs, a planned retirement "community" Kathleen despises. Even as memory and reason slip beyond her control, she determines to find at least one more day of freedom. Kathleen's wanderings combine hilarity and heartbreak to form an affecting, provocative short narrative. Recommended for most fiction collections.-Starr E. Smith, Fairfax Cty. P.L., Va.