Posted by: Lisa Hill | February 23, 2015

Sensational Snippets: The Well-dressed Explorer, by Thea Astley

The Well Dressed ExplorerI was reminded recently that it’s been a while since I made any progress with my long-term project to read all the Miles Franklin winners, but it was no hardship to take Thea Astley’s The Well-dressed Explorer down off the shelf.  I have already posted the Opening Lines of this novel (back in 2009, when this blog was near-new!) and I also reviewed George Turner’s The Cupboard Under the Stairs which was the co-winner of the Miles Franklin in the same year.   But neither prepared me for the delight of Astley’s wit in The Well-dressed Explorer, the first of the four Miles Franklin Award-winning books she was to write over a long career.   Here’s just a small sample:

George is a narcissistic cub reporter at a newspaper in small-town Queensland.  He has moved to this town because he’s infatuated with Nita.

George congratulated himself that Duckworth, the editor and part owner of the paper, a barrel-chested big-bellied bully of fifty, had taken a fancy to him.  For apart from the to or three dinners he had enjoyed at the editorial home – largely, he was sure, that more work might be squeezed out of him by the semblance of friendship – he spun in a flurry of loving, dingy café meals, diamanté gifts, cheap wine and all night parties that culminated in bursts of passion which at times both bored and nauseated him.  Yet his interminable desire for Nita, now a musky reality of flounces and cheap jewellery, found its continuance in the magic he projected from lost visions of shared summers.

The Duckworths lived in an impressively added-to house on the east side of the town above the river were fawning willows tottered up from the waterway to flatter the ant-eaten bleached timbers.  Imelda Duckworth, an aggressive long-legged woman with a rubbery red mouth, had fossicked for years among the junior reporters on her husband’s staff, the sanguine old-timer, turning up the occasional small but pleasing nugget.  The frustration of having worked out her last seam two years ago focused her prospector’s eye on George, upon whose bland baby face late hours had sketched an intriguing map.  Here is the island, children.  Here the land-locked harbour with the treasure hill beyond inviting the seekers.  Here the cay, the reef, the intimations of tropicana – the cabbage palms, the desolate plantation, the branded tree.  Primary tactics included invitations to the house, to tennis clubs, to study groups (Know Your History, Know Your Painters, Know Your Music) but later, when the lubricatory effects of whisky had established for her not only Nita’s existence but also his relationship with her, and she had, with the manners of a procuress, made her house occasionally available to them, polite affectations vanished; and one singularly humid evening, she climbed into bed with them.  George made of this in later years an uproariously funny story, but at the time used to confess with fetching naïveté.

“Lord, was I embarrassed!  Didn’t know which way to turn.”

Thea Astley, The Well-dressed Explorer, Angus & Robertson, First Edition, 1962,  p44-5


Responses

  1. […] you will know if you have viewed the Opening Lines or my more recent Sensational Snippet, there is much to love about Thea Astley’s The Well-dressed Explorer which won the Miles […]

  2. Now that sounds a lot more fun than the last, slightly nasty, Thea Astley I’m still recovering from – A Boat Load of Home Folk. Might consider that one.

    • I haven’t read that one. She can be nasty, I thought Drylands was a bit nasty, But *blush* I snickered all the same….


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