Catherine Byrne, a nineteenth-century English missionary, travels to remote Australia with her prophetic husband and his band of eight female disciples and is led through severe hardship--shipwreck, disease, and death.
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The last of Hall's three-volume imaginative history of Australia (Kisses of the Enemy, 1988; The Second Bridegroom, 1991)- -a riveting novel of miracles, murder, and prophecy in the remote Australian bush. When a policeman comes round to the old mission station asking questions about a brutal murder, aging Catherine Byrne at last has an audience--and an opportunity to tell the extraordinary story of her life. Daughter of an English clergyman, young Catherine loved cousin Dora; but when a neighbor introduced her to Muley Moloch, a charismatic preacher and illiterate bootmaker who'd taken over the name of a famous Irish apostate, she was overwhelmed by a ``miracle'' he performed (she saw Moloch briefly fly)--a miracle that led to marriage to Moloch and to their departure for Australia with a band of eight women disciples, the Household of Hidden Stars. Believing he had a gift from God, Moloch wanted to establish a community of women (``morals are the work of women'') to await the imminent Second Coming. In a stream of lyrical consciousness, Catherine recalls the long, dangerous voyage from England; her miraculous recovery from TB; Moloch's miraculous bringing back from the dead of drowned opera singer Louise; the fearful demons who inhabit the bush; the virgin birth of her son Immanuel; the petty jealousies that divided the disparate band of women; and the long- ago murder she thinks the policeman is inquiring about. It's a confession as much of spiritual failings as temporal ones, of loss of faith as well as of misdeeds. Above all, it is an opportunity to purge the past and soul: ``What else should I confess to you while I have the chance to influence the way you'll judge all this?'' Ever-fascinating mysteries of the human spirit--explored with a light but always sensitive touch in a luminous setting. And an absorbing read. -- Copyright ©1993, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.From Publishers Weekly:
A timely, haunting drama of utopian dreams confronted with baleful reality, Hall's new novel captures the bizarre appeal of religious cults. Catherine Byrne marries self-proclaimed prophet Muley Moloch and leaves 19th-century England with him and his eight female disciples to search for paradise on earth in the wilds of Australia. But life as a prophet's wife is not all that Catherine had expected; her first-person narration recounts a shipwreck, illness, death and outbursts of jealousy among the disciples. Muley's visionary charisma leads the group ever farther from civilization but does not draw them together, nor do the shared hardships of settling the wilderness, building two houses (one for Muley, one for the nine women, called the Household of Hidden Stars) and coping with apparitions that stare at them from the edges of the forests. After Muley disappears on a mysterious voyage, Catherine begins to see the apparitions more clearly; she alternates between enchantment and fear, wondering what is real and what is imagined. When the police arrive to investigate a brutal murder, Catherine vents her anger and frustration in a high-pitched, almost inchoate account of deception, betrayal, holy and unholy mysteries (including purported virgin births), and, finally, redemption. Hall chooses to convey Catherine's almost demented narrative voice in terse sentences punctuated mainly by dashes, a device that readers may find distracting but that builds to a near-hysterical intensity. Those familiar with such earlier novels as Kisses of the Enemy and The Second Bridegroom will recognize Hall's distinctive combination of magical realism, psychological penetration and astute social observation that makes this Australian author's work so consistently interesting.
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Book Description Farrar Straus & Giroux, 1993. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # M0374167044