A review of
The Great Inland Sea
by David Francis
When published in other countries and before making its way here to the U.S., David Francis’s novel was called Agapanthus Tango. Here it is called The Great Inland Sea, which strikes me as more appropriate. The central problem with the title Agapanthus Tango is with the word “tango.” Though there is an important Argentinean character named Dickie, nothing in the book even begins to verge on the steamy sensuality of the tango.
To the contrary, David Francis’s book is hard and plain. The protagonist, Day, is a young 1940s Australian who watches his mother die on their bleak farm in the outback, and leaves for America with a horse. He falls in love with a young female jockey in Maryland. She is impenetrable and he suffers. They part ways. Day returns to Australia, to a father who has essentially forgone the act of communication altogether. Day learns things. Truths about his childhood are revealed to him. He suffers more as a consequence of that knowledge (consult Aeschylus).
Francis’s language confirms and complements the plot. Francis writes like a man who had to pay for the words first: “Dead horses are heavy, especially their heads.” Often he fails even to come up with a complete sentence: “Her cu-rious, deliberate English.” He seems to think lan-guage really can get right up to reality as long as it does so quickly and in bursts.
But none of it has anything to do with the tango.
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