With confidence, bordering on audacity, Knox knits together plot and language to produce a truly extraordinary, literary technicolour dreamcoat.
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
RRP $32.99, Paperback, 345pp
Malcolm Knox is the author of Summerland, A Private Man and Jamaica, which was shortlisted for the Prime Minister’s Award and won the Colin Roderick Award. He is also a Walkley Award-winning journalist and author of many non-fiction titles
THOUGHTS ON ‘The Wonder Lover’:
John Wonder is the most bland of men, living the most extraordinary of lives. He is an authenticator – a seeker of truth who travels the globe to verify world records. His professional life is concerned chiefly with fact, but his personal life is based on fiction.
In three cities of the world, he has three separate families – three wives and three sets of children – none of whom are aware of the others existence. John is ‘The Wonder Lover’ – a kind of domestic super-hero, charging from one city to the next in fulfillment of his familial duties.
Of course, the life in triplicate cannot last. When St Bernard of Clairvaux declared ‘The path to hell is paved with good intentions,’ he may as well have been talking about John Wonder.
This is a cautionary tale. The marketing refers to The Wonder Lover as being in the style of a fable, and indeed there are elements that support this view. Knox’s lexical and syntactical wizardry casts a spell over the reader which is not lifed until the final word of the final page.
A deliberate vagueness on dates and locations lifts the story out of the muck of reality and onto a higher plane that exists somewhere between heaven and earth.
Yes, this is a bed-time story for adults. But it is more than that. This work is a parable – a tale of biblical profundity, written for humanity to understand an essential moral truth.
John Wonder’s yearning for love and beauty can only be understood in the context of his parents’ bitter lovelessness and violently antagonistic relationship.
Their names? Adam and Evelynn – the original sinners – the ones who forever condemned humanity to a never-ending cycle of searching, and failing to find true wisdom. Or, as in John’s case – true love and beauty.
‘Love had happened to him (the passive, his voice of choice) three times, with such overwhelming force that all three tumbles had resulted in him promising to devote his life to the beautiful one (to the exclusion of all others, but we’ll come to that). He was father to six children, three boys and three girls, and he loved us all. Clearly, love and beauty drove John Wonder as powerfully as anyone else. And knowing this-having apprehended it through the counter-experience of the sexual wonders of the world-drove him mad, as crazed with frustration as the astrophysicist who took his life after discovering the boundaries of the universe but not what was on the other side. The resistance provided by the unmeasurable threatened to invalidate, to trivialise, everything our father had done. He grew as obsessed with the gap between beauty and measurement as his colleague had grown with the gap between lip and lip. What exactly was the universal formula of physical beauty? How could he measure and bottle, the love that could not be resisted? This need to entrap beauty had crept up on him slowly, but, like any illicit desire, ineluctably; in part it was what made him fall in love those three times, or if it was not that, it was, after the fact, the story he told himself to set up a frame of order and meaning around what he had done.’
To his great misfortune, John does find the most beautiful woman in the world, and her name is Cicada – a loud, shrill and beautiful creature. She is a temptress. The devil herself. John Wonder can do little, but fall in love with her.
But who are the real victims in this tale of woe? It is his six children, three boys and three girls. All three boys are named ‘Adam’. All three girls are named ‘Evie’. According to John, the children are so named for ease of use, to prevent him from calling a child by the wrong name.
It is another delusion. His children are Adam and Eve – that is, they represent all children, all humanity, the generations to come – it is through their eyes that we hear John’s story.
The Wonder Lover is narrated by a single voice, but it is the voice of all six of John’s children.
These children are all-seeing, all-knowing, and all-forgiving. Godly.
‘.. to us he was our father, the only one we had, and he was all we knew about fathers. He was all fathers, and as far as we knew we were the only children he had, and we were, we are, two of us in triplicate. We are all his children, all six of us, and we never had reason to beg for his kindness or his mercy or his reassurance because he gave without being asked. You could never find a more generous father. And we know that by saying this, we will stand condemned.’
Condemned. There is that word again. It is not just John’s life left in ruins. What is it the bible says about subsequent generations paying for the sins of the father?
I hope these biblical references do not dissuade readers from picking up The Wonder Lover. This is not a religious, or preaching book, but it is certainly concerned with morality, and draws upon themes that have concerned humankind for thousands of years.
The Wonder Lover is awe-inspiring. I left this book sensing that I had just witnessed an author at the top of their game.
It is almost a sleight of hand, that Knox achieves what he does with such ease. We see the finished product, but not the factory that made it. This novel is a technicolour dreamcoat, where plot and language are weaved together so beautifully, that the seams are never exposed.
*My ARC copy provided courtesy of The Reading Room.