The Fiction of Gabrielle Lord

'Why do people do this sort of thing?' It is a child's question, from a boy called Derek, who is one of a group kidnapped with their teacher. She tries to answer him: unhappy childhoods, harsh parents, but concludes - in despair - 'No one really knows' (90). The exchange comes from the first of Gabrielle Lord's eight novels, Fortress (1980). It has resonated through the increasingly complex works that she has written since then. One of Lord's key subjects is not so much the reasons for, or problems of evil, but the want of sufficient cause for the harms that men especially do to children, and to women. It is a motiveless, or inadequately motivated malignity that those of her characters who are victims often and terribly confront. Typically they have not been chosen at random. Rather they are unwitting objects of revenge out of all proportion to their presumed offence.

For the events of Fortress, Lord drew on the kidnapping, in 1972, of the pupils of the tiny Faraday School, north of Melbourne, and its lone teacher, Mary Gibb, by John Francis Eastway and his accomplices. On that occasion, all those kidnapped were rescued. Bizarrely, Eastway would repeat his earlier crime after serving his sentence for it. More specifically here than later, Lord's novel was generated by an actual event, although one that was singularly transfigured in her telling. All but one of her subsequent novels (the partial exception being Salt (1990), set in a blasted landscape around Sydney in the 2070s), have contemporary settings, but the abuses and crimes that they depict are more general, and sadly more commonplace.

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Published 1 October 1999 in Volume 19 No. 2. Subjects: Abduction & kidnapping, Characterisation, Child sexual abuse, Evil, Psychological detail, Violence, Writer's craft.

Cite as: Pierce, Peter. ‘The Fiction of Gabrielle Lord.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 19, no. 2, 1999, doi: 10.20314/als.5479f68a02.