Posted by: Lisa Hill | October 12, 2009

Paper Nautilus by Nicholas Jose, read by Paul English

Although he’s written numerous novels, I’m not familiar with Jose’s work, except as General Editor of the  Macquarie PEN Anthology of Australian Literature.  In size and scope alone, that must have been a mammoth undertaking and (despite being mildly miffed about the omission of Ruth Park) I think we owe Jose a debt of gratitude for it. So I’m going to feel a little guilty about being a bit dismissive of his short novel, Paper Nautilus (1987).

Paper NautilusI’ve been listening to Paper Nautilus as an audio book en route to work, but it hasn’t really held my attention very much.It seems to me that it’s a symbol in search of a story, and the story is too slight to bear much weight.  There are two brothers who go away to war, and only one returns.   The surviving brother cares for the child of what might have been a marriage, and has to contend with a battle for custody with the mother.  (That’s not a spoiler because that’s revealed right at the start).

Quite apart from a couple of strange anachronisms (did anyone really have baby changing tables in the 1940s??) the tale of the brothers’ war lacks gravitas.  We are now so aware of the horrors of the Pacific War that a cursory treatment of it seems rather undignified.  The quiet restraint of the narrative makes it all seem unremarkable.  There are some arresting images (though IMO the nautilus isn’t one of them) but there’s not enough texture or plot to engage my interest.

Still, it was an early work, and I can see from Jose’s webpage that there are later works which look intriguing.  I shall look out for these at the library….

Author: Nicholas Jose
Title: Paper Nautilus
Narrated by Paul English
Publisher: Louis Braille Audio, 2007, first published 1988
ISBN: 9780732033187
Source: Kingston Library


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