Posted by: Lisa Hill | June 1, 2011

The End of Longing, by Ian Reid

The End of LongingI rather liked this book.  You could characterise it as historical fiction, but there’s a bit more to it than that…

Based loosely on the Ian Reid’s own family’s history, it’s the story of the enigmatic Rev. William Hammond, who might – or might not – be a charlatan, a rogue and a murderer.  The tale begins with the bereft relations of his third wife Francis, and their suspicion that her death and those of her children were due to foul play.  Marooned in remote 19th century New Zealand, Edward Phillips seeks to find out the truth about his sister’s death, but as the correspondence shows, is hampered by his distance from events far away.

Having established Hammond as a rogue, Reid then confounds his readers by engaging their sympathies for him.  Events shift to the boyhood years of the suspect where tragedy piles upon tragedy and the character of the man is formed.

I know this will get me into trouble with some of my readers, (and possibly with the author himself!) but I’m not a fan of family history.  IMO it’s a middle-class sort of hobby that usually rests on an edifice of respectability and compliance with documenting one’s life, staying in one place or moving to predictable places in predictable ways.   There are few bigger bores than those who love to relate their latest research into Great Aunty Myrtle’s pedestrian life, and while the obsessive may believe that Great-great Grandpa Hogwash was a fascinating ‘character’, I usually find that the fascination loses something in the telling.

And family history buffs are usually selective in their interests.  Nobody ever brags about ancestors who’ve done awful things like been involved in the slave trade or massacres of indigenous peoples.  People proud of their convict ancestry in Australia prefer their ancestors to have stolen crusts of bread to feed their starving children or been political prisoners agitating for ideologically sound social reform.

Fortunately for cynics like me, what Reid has done is to subvert the usual famhist genre by telling the tale of an ancestor not at all respectable, and not at all predictable.  It’s based on documentation not at all reliable – which as with any ancestor half-way interesting is usually the case. And, as would make most family histories much more interesting for successive generations to mull over, Reid has invented good bits of his ancestor’s story.   The Reverend is a traveller with very itchy feet indeed, and you might need an atlas to follow him to some of his destinations.

Reid is also a poet, and he writes beautifully, as the Prelude shows:

He could hear nothing.  Light snow continued to fall, slowly turning pallid the rows of upright stones and wooden markers.  Powder thickened on the paths, and on the clothes of the shivering boy.  As he stared at the small mound in front of him, near the boundary wall, its raw covering of newly dug soil began to fade under the blanket of whiteness. 

Oh, yes, that’s snow.  We don’t get much of that in Australia.  But I’m not going to reveal any more than that!

© Lisa Hill

Author: Ian Reid
Title: The End of Longing
Publisher: UWAP (University of Western Australia Publishing)
ISBN: 9781742582740
Source: Review copy courtesy of UWAP.


Responses

  1. This sounds like a beautifully written book Lisa ,I like books where writer use there own family history usually means the ring true more than a made up history ,all the best stu

    • Hi Stu, I thought he did a brilliant job of showing how vulnerable immigrants in new colonies were when things went wrong. I look back at how my parents set off for brighter climes with three kids under 10 and no family support, and I marvel at their courage. If either one or both of them had been seriously ill, it could have been very difficult, but at least they were in places with systems for caring for vulnerable children. (In fact there were a couple of times when friends and school stepped in and cared for us, when my mother was ill and my father had to be away from home for work).


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