On a cloudless summer afternoon in 1789, labourers working in the fields around Montsignac, a village in Gascony, saw a man fall out of the sky.
Michelle de Kretser was born in Sri Lanka and migrated to Australia with her family in 1972. She has taught English at the University of Melbourne, as well as working as an editor and book reviewer. Her novels, The Rose Grower (1999) and The Hamilton Case (2003), have been published across the world and translated into several languages. The Hamilton Case won the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for South-East Asia and the Pacific, the Encore Award and the Tasmania Pacific Prize for Australian and New Zealand fiction. The Lost Dog is her third novel. She lives in Melbourne.
In an ambitious first novel, de Kretser records five years of the French Revolution (1789-1794) from the perspective of one family in southern France. Relying on passive recitation rather than action, however, her writing is neither nuanced nor direct enough to meet the challenge. Even before the uprisings, Sophie de Saint-Pierre's aristocratic but ruined family have been reduced to living in their rundown country estate outside of Castelnau, a small provincial town. Capable and kind but too plain and impoverished to attract the attention of suitors, Sophie expresses her passionate nature by tending a magnificent rose garden. When American artist Stephen Fletcher crash-lands his hot-air balloon in the Saint-Pierre's yard, his attentions are immediately captured by Sophie's beautiful older sister, Claire, whose unhappy marriage leaves her vulnerable to Stephen's courtship. Sophie pines for Stephen in silence, and doesn't notice that her own charms have at last been detected by Joseph Morel, a young physician. Joseph's humanitarian nature, humble upbringing and ideas for reforming contemporary medicine make him a prime candidate for revolutionary fervor, and he quickly becomes involved with Castelnau's pro-Revolution faction. This turn of events propels the Saint-Pierres out of their sequestered environment and into the political spotlight. De Kretser makes a valiant effort to paint an accurate picture of 18th-century life, and the book is grounded in atmospheric historical detail. However, the protagonists become defined by their broadly outlined positions, and eventually they are reduced to mere mouthpieces (Stephen for sanitation reform to prevent disease, Sophie for unmarried women, etc.) without internal conflict. Though the characters never really come to life, the novel's end gains momentum as the family finds its personal stake in the political turmoil. (June) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
On July 14, 1789, American artist Stephen Fletcher literally falls from the sky into the lives of the Saint-Pierre family in Gascony when his hot-air balloon crashes. He also falls in love with the ethereal Claire, eldest of three sisters, despite her marriage to an aristocrat. Meanwhile, Sophie falls in love with him but tries not to let him know, and schoolgirl Mathilde delights him with her forthright humor. First novelist de Kretser explores the connections among the sisters, the artist, and area residents, using as backdrop the French Revolution and the growing unease it creates. Pages of descriptions of dress, food, landscapes, and Sophie's hobby of rose growing, delightful as they may be, slow the action to the speed of a pastoral summer afternoon. Only when the Reign of Terror takes hold does the tempo quicken. Recommended for readers who prefer fiction with a leisurely pace.--Andrea Lee Shuey, Shuey Consulting, Dallas Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.