Back to Whitton Week: Tracking Tom Keneally's Career
So at fifty years, what can we say? An easy conclusion would be that Keneally is best understood (as he himself has suggested from time to time) as a good craftsman of readable stories that raise serious issues, a writer better suited to the literary mass-market found in north America than to the more anxious and divided cultural space of literary Australia. But that fails at some point to do justice to the author’s capacity to write an experimental, challenging, literary work one year and a formula entertainment the next. In a real sense, Keneally the novelist is that variety, that impulsive flair, that unusual mix of person and persona, author and work that refuses ready categorisation, whether by scholars or bookshop salespoints. My conclusion is that it is our entrenched understanding of a literary career as much as any particular schools of literary value (modernism, realism, postmodernism, and so forth) that generates critical oscillations and uncertainties around Keneally’s writing, and precisely because this idea itself is now under reconstruction in ways Bourdieu could not have imagined, we will have to wait for a while to find a fully satisfying model by which to understand his complete works. In the meantime, revisiting A Place at Whitton offers us a fair guide.