Review of Rainforest Narratives: The Work of Janette Turner Hospital, by David Callahan
For a long time I nursed the fancy that someone called Turner Hospital was a First Nations American who had somehow ended up in Australia. Of course, once I read more of her work it became clear this was not the case, but, as David Callahan points out in the first pages of his extensive study, names are not trivial here: there is an intertextual, even allegorical impulse behind many of Janette Turner Hospital's characters that insists on fictive invention and conceptual underpinning. Callahan picks up immediately on the two things that have perhaps prevented JTH from cracking the mysterious paper ceiling of literary adulation in Australia: the hint of 'high' archness in her self-aware refusal of an 'easy contract with realism' and the 'low' attraction to popular modes such as the thriller. Unlike reading Tim Winton, we get sucked into a 'good yam' only to find ourselves puzzled or irritated by complexities, and unlike Patrick White's books, there is the show of intellectual depth or artistic flourish that seems to fall back onto the 'good yam'. Callahan describes the mix as akin to wandering into 'the profusion and entanglements of the rainforest' that reappears in Turner Hospital's writing, whether it be the backwaters of Kerala or her own origins in Queensland.
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