Book Review: Woman of the Inner Sea by Thomas Keneally

Woman of the Inner Sea (1992) by Thomas Keneally represents Australia for this month’s Around the World for a Good Book.

Like many Around the World for a Good Book selections it has an international flavor to it, particularly Irish as the main character Kate Gaffney-Kozinski is the daughter of Irish immigrants. Keneally goes as far as to state that Sydney is a Celtic city and the sister city of Boston (which is actually not true, Melbourne gets that honor). Also underpinning the novel is a strong Catholic identity if not Catholic fidelity as exemplified by the corrupt priest Uncle Frank. Frank at least is genial as opposed to the corrupt and evil Paul Kozinski, a construction baron and Kate’s unfortunate choice in a husband. Paul’s family also are immigrants from Poland, the Polish-Irish balance an important background to the story. The international flavor continues with a Greek publican and an Italian filmmaker.

The novel though is strongly Australian. At once it is personal and as large as the continent. The gleaming cities of the coast are contrasted with the rugged towns of the outback. Even a kangaroo and a emu play an important role in the story. Comically they are said to be trained to create a living tableaux of the Australian Coat of Arms. Kate’s story is one of many tragic events: loss of children, self-exile to the outback, flood, death of loved one, and being the quarry in a hunt by her husband’s strongman.

I haven’t given too much away in the last sentence because Keneally as a strange writing device goes beyond foreshadowing to deliberately telling the reader what’s going to happen later. This paired with his frequent breaking of the fourth wall and addressing the reader as “dear bookbuyer” (ironic then that I borrowed the book from a library) doesn’t jibe well with me. I suppose he’s trying to bring attention to the trite clichés of narrative storytelling but it comes of as snarky, even antagonistic to the reader. His story about Kate though is an interesting and moving one though.

Favorite Passages

For this was Australia, where no one trusted eloquence. Where the man of aphorism had to be watched. The elevated wit of Europe was the chain which had bound a thousand felons and provoked a million emigrations. – p. 23

He was always impatient with people who saw their own childhoods as halcyon, as ordained and not contingent, as the norm to be absolutely desired and maintained. – p. 50

Author : Keneally, Thomas.
Title : Woman of the inner sea / Thomas Keneally.
Published : London : Hodder & Stoughton, 1992.