It arrives on UK shelves as The Book of Science and Antiquitiesa more studious and genial appellation, but decidedly less funny. The gain in poetic decorum comes at the expense of its distinctly Australian pith, that gloriously inscrutable cultural mix of no-bullshit literalness and bone-deep irony. Is The Book of Science and Antiquities a sly existential joke, or an entirely solemn endeavour?
Shelby Apple is an octogenarian film-maker, newly diagnosed with oesophageal cancer. As a young man, unassailable and reckless, he won an Oscar for a Vietnam war documentary he filmed with his best friend, who died on the battlefield. As his cancer takes root, Shelby campaigns to return Learned Man to his burial site; but whose legacy is he preserving? So, as I am more mindful of joy than ever, I am also mindful of duties, and the shallow laughter has been replaced by a longer and abiding laughter that is in me, but also larger than me.
Shelby struggles to see it. His creator is an accomplished tightrope walker, but falters in this novel. If anything, it is Shelby who needs Shade. There is a Learned Woman, too, but her story remains — tellingly — untold. Play Video. Topics Fiction Book of the day. Thomas Keneally reviews. Reuse this content. Most popular. Sign up for free newsletters and Sign for woman and man in Australia more CNBC delivered to your inbox.
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