Posted by: Lisa Hill | December 2, 2010

The Philanthropist (2010), by John Tesarsch

I seem to have been remarkably lucky with my reading lately.  No sooner had I put down Lloyd Jones’s Hand Me Down World, a wonderful book that is getting heaps of well deserved publicity, than I discovered a terrific new author with Catherine Harris’s Like Being a Wife – and now a splendid first novel, The Philanthropist, by John Tesarch.

It has a very powerful first chapter that hooked me straight away.  All the characters are deeply flawed: Charles Bradshaw is a wealthy businessman, a prominent philanthropist and a man with a hidden past. After a massive heart attack his life is transformed: the family he has been too busy for doesn’t want him; his colleagues no longer need him; and he has no friends.

Anna Murphy is a Supreme Court judge.  She too is alone after a marriage that failed a long time ago; she is married now to the job and has little to look forward to but an empty retirement.  She has no children, but like Charlie she has many regrets.

It is a deeply melancholy book with a pervasive sense of hopelessness, but it is not depressing because of Charlie’s earnest (albeit misguided) attempts to salvage some integrity.  The interest lies in the variety of ways in which he tries to use his money to buy forgiveness – and whether every man (or woman) has a price.  Can there be redemption for a man whose idea of restorative justice is compromised by a lifetime of denial and suppressed emotion?

There is some beautiful writing and here and there a truly memorable turn of phrase, such as this:

They eat in silence.  Shellfish, riesling.  No doubt the food is first class, but she has lost her appetite.  To others they must appear to be just another couple who have run out of conversation, the dining dead. (p224)

Alice Robinson has written a fine review at Crikey.   She blogs her reading at Criterature but it’s one of those annoying Blogspot blogs that don’t feature categories so alas it’s not conducive to browsing or finding your favourite authors easily.  I recommend subscribing to it so that you don’t miss anything…

Virginia Millen has written a rather grudging review at Readings.  Is it really fair to compare a first novel by a debut author to The Heather Blazing by the internationally acclaimed master of contemporary literature Colm Tóibín?  I don’t think so.

Author: John Tesarch
Title: The Philanthropist
Publisher: Sleepers Publishing 2010
ISBN: 9781740669979
Source: Review copy courtesy of Sleepers Publishing.


  1. Well, that looks as though its worth getting hold of, and the links you provide to other blogs are enlightening – aren’t there a lot of we book bloggers! I am interested to read your comment about annoying blogspot blogs – I totally agree, with difficulty of commenting being another problem for non-blogspot people. I wonder if blog spot bloggers realise how much their locked in system discourages their readers


    • Oh so true about commenting too, Tom! That crazy system of post/preview where the uninitiated don’t realise they *have to* preview to see the anti-spam comment makes me really cross, and I only bother with it with bloggers I really like.
      But the main thing that annoys me is being unable to search effectively. I think you can tag with BlogSpot but I’ve never seen a tag cloud, and they can’t categorise at all.


  2. Nice to have unknown authors added to the mix instead of the same old, same old ones.


    • Thanks for the idea, Tony – I’ve added a new sub-category, ‘debut’ to the Australian literarture category in the drop-down search menu – and also a new tag Debut Aussie fiction (which includes the occasional genre fiction I review).


  3. I have read The Philanthropist. I also must admit bias – I knew John when he was a cellist. But I also read widely, and I was blown away by this book. There’s a lot behinfmd the straightforward prose. It takes more than a craftsman to write cheerfully about a dark and flawed character and get the message across with as much empathy and power as John Tesarsch does in The Phsnthropist. I loved this book. I was glued to it from the first page and could not put it down.


    • Hello Alfred, and welcome to chatting about books on ANZ LitLovers. I agree entirely, Tesearch is a rare talent, and I hope he’s writing another novel.


  4. […] with the Dissidents and on her recommendation, I moved it up the TBR.  Unsurprisingly, since I’ve read and liked Tesarsch before, the book turned out to be interesting reading,  with a pertinent take-home message for our […]


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