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Book DetailsISBN: 9781922079916
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Book Review: Joyful by Robert Hillman - Reviewed by CloggieA (23 Apr 2014)
Joyful is the sixth novel by Australian author, Robert Hillman. Joyful is a property at Yackandandah in country Victoria that was inherited by Leon Joyce; it was built by his great grandfather, used by his great aunt as a base for a Socialist Christian community, and offered by his wife to her friends as a temporary retreat, but Leon has never been there. Leon is a strange little man: a somewhat overweight rare-book seller who is obsessed with female beauty, but in a completely asexual way. Tess Wachowicz is a beautiful musician and radio presenter who is decidedly promiscuous. But when Leon dresses Tess in a Ralph Lauren halter-neck from his collection, their fate is sealed. Their unlikely marriage seems to work: Leon worships her beauty, finds he can even manage to be affectionate, and Tess takes her lust elsewhere. When Tess dies of cancer, Leon is devastated. Desperate to keep his connection to her, he pores over anything associated with Tess and stumbles on evidence of a lover, a man for whom she evicted her Kurdish friends from Joyful. Professor Emmanuel Delli and his wife, Daanya, a paediatrician, are also grieving as both their son and daughter have died violent deaths. In Yackandandah, the Professor’s dysfunctional reactions, now escalating into madness, have alienated the community. Also living in Yackandandah is Tess’s Polish lover, Daniel, part of a strange little threesome including his lover, Emily and her husband Gareth. When Leon heads to Joyful, their paths are eventually bound to cross. Hillman gives the reader a diverse cast of support characters: a swearing priest; a delightful pair of indigenous squatters; a determined shop manager; an exasperating psychotherapist; a sympathetic researcher, a pragmatic policeman, an infatuated great aunt, a progressive father. This book is filled with beautiful descriptive prose: “The paddocks along the highway were fawn and wilted yellow after a summer of ferocious heat. Bony outcrops of granite glittered on the hillsides, the fabric of earth worn away like the elbows of an ancient garment.” and “The foliage of the trees became a theatre of silhouettes, growing blacker as the night deepened. The moon formed a sharper and sharper arc halfway up the sky until it seemed too distinct to be merely natural. As the hours passed the stars thickened. By midnight they looked as crafted as the moon.” and “It was as if the message of his aversion had reached her after a technical delay in which it circled the earth blindly twice or fifty times, and was only now having its impact.” are just a few examples. Hillman endows Leon with the sort of madness that is only possible for the independently wealthy, but also gives him plenty of words of wisdom: “…victims are often ambitious. They write themselves into whatever drama they can find.” and “The passions of the timid were as punishing as those of the extroverted.” and “It was true of many people that the best of them only ever comes to life in the imagination of another.” This novel touches on mental disorders, on grief and loss, and on the plight of Kurds; it features heartbreak, jealousy, distress, shame and obsession; Utopias, Islam and the work of Wordsworth also play a part. The subject matter could make for heavy going, but there is humour and there is hope to give balance. This decidedly original novel will stay with the reader long after the last page is turned. A moving and very enjoyable read.
Robert Hillman has written a number of books including his 2004 memoir The Boy in the Green Suit, which won the National Biography Award. He lives in Warburton in Victoria's Yarra Valley.
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