By Rama Gaind
PS News Books
Spirit of Progress
By Steven Carroll (Fourth Edition, $29.99, softcover, 347 pages)
A certain ethereal quality permeates through the Spirit of Progress which was inspired by Sydney Nolan’s painting Woman and Tent.
This latest novel from the 2008 Miles Franklin award-winning author Steven Carroll has another interesting connection: the central character in the novel—Katherine Carroll—is modelled on his great-aunt.
It tells of a dissimilar group of characters whose lives overlap during three days in July, 1946. They include train driver Vic and his new wife, Rita; his unconventional aunt, Katherine; a journalist named George; farmer Skinner; and an up-and-coming painter called Sam.
George’s article encourages Sam to paint a picture of Katherine and, in so doing, sets off a train of events that sees the lives of these individuals interconnect irrefutably.
A sense of poetic rhythm is reflected in Carroll’s writing, the use of present tense lends a sense of infinity. There’s also a feeling of ‘melancholia’.
It points to evolution being predestined; progress is very central to the novel. At some stage in our lives, we have all confronted it. Just like death, progress is inevitable. One day all of us will stand at the gate of change and ‘know that what’s being ushered in is something we will never see’.
Even George shows insight: after meeting with Skinner, he ruminates: “...one day we will all find ourselves walking around in the clothes that nobody wears any more, with a distracted, affable look in our eyes, wandering pigeon-toed through the whole world... It is a hint, an intimation, that sooner or later we will all stand at that gate”.
Spirit of Progress (which was also the name of a train between Sydney and Melbourne) is a prequel to Carroll’s so-called Glenroy trilogy which includes The Art of the Engine Driver, The Gift of Speed and The Time We Have Taken.
Edition 406, 22 April 2014
To find out more about Rama Gaind click here.