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The Drowner


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About the Author

Robert Drewe was born in Melbourne and grew up on the West Australian coast. His novels and short stories have widely been translated, won many national and international prizes, and been adapted for film, television, radio and theatre. He has also written plays, screenplays, journalism, and film criticism, and edited two international anthologies of stories.


In Drewe's (Savage Crows, Salem House, 1989) historical novel of Australia, Will Dance is an engineer in the 1880s, descended from a line of "drowners"‘men who irrigate dry lands. While at the public baths, Will swims into the love of his life, actress Angelica Lloyd, and together they travel to dusty western Australia, where Will succeeds in conveying water uphill 35 miles from its source. While experiencing the rough-and-tumble outback, gold rush mania, and a typhoid outbreak, they meet such characters as Axel Boehm, a photographer and chronicler; Inez, a bankrupt socialite turned nurse; Felix Locke, an undertaker with a poetic soul, whose longing for companionship is thwarted by the stigma of his profession. The book is beautifully written in its disparate parts, but its ambitious epic scope fails to join them together satisfactorily. Nevertheless, recommended for fiction collections.‘Sheila M. Riley, Smithsonian Inst. Libs., Washington, D.C.

An English irrigator draws on modern technology and ancient water-reverence to save a drought-stricken Australian boomtown in this lyrical, evocative but somewhat overwritten Australian bestseller set in the late 19th century. Raised by his father to be a "drowner," or irrigator, Will Dance goes to England to further his studies in engineering and, in Bristol, falls in love (at the public baths) with masseuse and aspiring actress Angelica Hammond. Together the lovers travel to western Australia, where Will brings water to a burgeoning gold-mining town overrun with typhoid fever. At a safe distance from its limpid leitmotif, the novel comes into its own, as Drewe gives readers a glimpse into the lives of three townspeople: an American mortician and aspiring poet; a mysterious photographer; and the typhoid nurse who poses for him. Everything else about the novel is steeped in the sensuality, physics and putative spirituality of water; unfortunately, Will and Angelica emerge more as vehicles and occasions for lyrical language about the wet stuff than as flesh-and-blood characters. The desert mining town, on the other hand, comes fully to life, invigorated by crisp and moving portrayals of Drewe's minor characters and the monotonous beauty of the hostile (blessedly arid) countryside. (Oct.)

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