The Sites of War in the Fiction of Thomas Keneally


That war is both a monstrous, but an ineradicably human activity, a horror for individuals but an essential element in the making and memory of nations, is affirmed in the fiction of Thomas Keneally. His second novel, The Fear (1965) treated the strains of homefront life in Australia during the Second World War. A Family Madness (1985), his most recent book, dramatised the haunting, destructive legacies of the same war a generation later among Belorussian emigrants to Australia. This greatest human conflict is the foreground of Season in Purgatory (1976) and The Cut-Rate Kingdom (1980); the armistice which concluded the Great War and helped to cause the Second World War is the subject of Gossip from the Forest (1975). And Keneally has ranged backwards and forwards in time from there. The Australian campaign in Malaya and Vietnam are among the many narrative threads of Passenger (1979); adventuring at the Second Boer War in the cause of the British Empire is an ironic backdrop to The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith (1972). The American Civil War ('the war between the blue and the butternut', as Keneally pedantically has it) is the matter of Confederates (1979), while the role of Joan of Arc (as it will be easier to call her) in the eventual French triumph in the Hundred Years' War is the subject of Blood Red, Sister Rose (1974).

The full text of this essay is available to ALS subscribers

Please sign in to access this article and the rest of our archive.

Published 1 October 1986 in Volume 12 No. 4. Subjects: Historical fiction, Novels & novelists, War literature, Tom Keneally.

Cite as: Pierce, Peter. ‘The Sites of War in the Fiction of Thomas Keneally.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 12, no. 4, 1986, doi: 10.20314/als.5d7b5933e1.