Humanity, Léon Bloy, wrote can be divided into two categories, those who fight the beast, and those who nourish it. In literature, the former is presently in the ascendance. This is why I like so much Stephen Mitchelmore’s remark that the right reader will find “blessed relief in Jen Craig’s fiction”. For such blessed relief is precisely what I found on my three passes through Panthers & the Museum of Fire.
There is little character development, only passing narrative impetus and no plot, yet relief is to be found in the novel’s reticence. Unavoidably, it has a situation: a writer called Jen Craig is given a manuscript written by a friend who has died. She is asked by the dead friend’s sister to return it unread; unable to resist temptation she reads the manuscript and achieves a breakthrough in her own writing, possible the book the reader is now reading. There is suspense in wondering why, after urging the narrator to read the manuscript because of her supposed literary flair, the sister now asks for its return, unread, but this question is unresolved. Mr. Godot never arrives.
Novels like Panthers & the Museum of Fire jettison everything recognisable as a novel, lacking much that Aristotle deemed essential to drama, yet this extraordinary little novel has at its heart a tragic fatality and a concentration of mature and tender feeling.
And the significance of the title?
A road sign. No longer there.
That sounds like it could have come from the text. Or from Beckett!
I’m still marinated in Jen Craig’s precise doubleness.
I’m intrigued how the Australian colloquialisms come across. “The Panthers” being the Penrith Rugby League team, an outer Western Sydney area, the Fire Museum, there too, however the chaos of Parramatta Road and other nuances made this a very “Sydney” work for me. I’m glad it’s made an impression outside of Australia as it is a worthy title, under acknowledged here.
Nothing jarred, beyond the specific names of streets etc.
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