23 May 2011

Five Bells

by Gail Jones

Random House Australia. Adult Fiction, Australian. Paperback RRP $29.95

Five Bells is my favourite Kenneth Slessor poem and I was immediately drawn to the title and the promise of a revisit to the Circular Quay area where I spent my early twenties.

The first page did not disappoint. Five Bells is a book of beautiful images painted from a number of different viewpoints.

James is looking for absolution. He recalls the best memories of his life – his childhood friendship with Ellie. He is coming to meet her at the Quay, hoping the years have changed nothing, and she will make him happy again.

Ellie remembers the past vividly and hopes James still feels the same, emotionally and sexually, and that there is a second chance for them. It is Ellie’s optimistic descriptions of a Quay bathed in light that I loved most.

Pei-Xing is a Chinese immigrant whose past has followed her to the Quay. She visits her former jailer and torturer, with grace and gentleness.

Catherine is a tourist from Ireland, looking to escape the pain of her brother’s accidental death.

Each of the four characters sees the Quay through different eyes and experiences. It begins to rain. Who will fulfil the prophecy of Five Bells?

While I thoroughly enjoyed this story I wanted more closure for the late introduced fifth character. She drew them together but her own story was unfinished – and it eats at me still.

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