Thursday, May 14, 2015

Review of A Short History of Richard Kline by Amanda Lohrey

Richard Kline is a seemingly mundane, rational, white man who pursues what  one would expect a mundane, white man to enjoy; a career, a wife, a family, material comforts, some vague intellectual challenges. Through the short period of his life that Lohrey reveals to us with subtlety, warmth and an incisive eye for the human condition, we know that what he appears to yearn for will never be enough for the eponymous Richard.
  The reader is briefly taken back to the childhood of Rick, as he is referred to. A suburban Sydney childhood, late 20th century, middle class, educated. This highlights how he differs from his siblings, how his parents experience him and of his alienation, which is almost a disdain for the world. It is often through the juxtaposition of characters that Richard is further revealed. This is a technique that Lohrey uses in a lot of her work, it is the minor or supporting characters who bring the main protagonists into sharper relief.
  The adult life of Rick, also traverses a terrain of normalcy; study, love, job, ambition, travel yet, it is all suffused with a yearning, an emptiness that he is at first not aware of, and then he does not know how to have an emotional or spiritual vocabulary to describe, let alone shift.
  A significant change occurs when he is on a team building exercise in the Blue Mountains,  abseiling in a place that ‘should’ imbue him with fear, that, ‘should’ allow him to increase his trust in his colleagues and ‘should’ allow them to return to the office as a tighter, more productive, more profitable unit. Instead, as he hangs off a cliff, on a skinny rope, his life in the hands of those he works in an office with, he is overwhelmed by boredom.
“But no, here I was, a young man, reasonably fit, with a mild hangover and a shocking indifference.”
  This is a pivotal moment and Richard’s life, subtly at first, begins a profound change. He then warily enrols in a corporate meditation practice, very much designed and pitched to improve productivity, concentration and reduce stress, this is done with a great deal of rationalising; his inner scepticism provides the perfect foil to the reader’s bewilderment about the spiritual progression he then begins to experience. This is enhanced by Lohrey’s decision to have a chaper in his voice, then a chapter from an unknown narrator throughout the book.
  The second pivotal point in the novel, is when he follows a colleague into the Chatswood Community Centre and, following a gentle fracas with the person on the door about whether he has to leave his pair of “almost new Italian leather slip-ons in a place where they could easily be stolen,” he is confronted with a crowd of devotees of a diminutive, dark skinned woman “draped in the gentle folds of a white cotton sari”.
  He is overcome by something he does not recognise and  with darshan, a beautiful Sanskrit word that denotes a spiritual recognition, a homecoming to an unknown home.
And, Richard, the heretofore rational, achieving, prosaic white male, is metaphorically touched by god in this suburban hall, he weeps and weeps and weeps. He cries for the first time he can remember and he doesn’t know why.
  One of the central premises of this finely crafted novel is the question of how a man who has had no time for spriritual ‘claptrap’ his entire life resolves to live with a deeply touching experience - and what happens to the relationships around him as this resolution sets in.
  Amanda Lohrey is an author of exquisite sublety and wry humour. Her ability to draw out the quieter nuances of the human condition is evidenced again in A Short History of Richard Kline. Again, she has crafted a male character of great depth, bought into high relief by the characters around him.
Lohrey was awarded the Patrick White prize in , 2012. This prize, a legacy of one of Australia’s greatest writers is given to authors who the judges consider to deserve more attention. While Lohrey felt that she was receiving enough attention to her work, it is a deserving accolade and one that should serve to highlight her solid, yet singing and pulsating oeuvre.
  A Short History of Richard Kline is a story split in two, of a man almost split in two – but who manages to reconcile this division ultimately for his greater fulfilment.

Variations of this review first appeared in Warp and The Mercury.
Amanda Lohrey will be in conversation with James Boyce about this book at Fullers Bookshop in June

A Short History of Richard Kline
Amanda Lohrey
Black Inc Books 


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