Good Reading : August 2001
wordof mouth fiction Sceptre $29.95 Viking $30.00 Faith Singer Rosie Scott The Blind Eye Georgia Blain 28 What story is more interesting – the disease or the cure? Georgia Blain and Rosie Scott both wrestle with the dramatic balance between destruction and recovery. If novelists were nurses, they would be struck from the register for their erratic care of their characters – building up their strength in one chapter, and then dragging them back down in the next. The Blind Eye and Faith Singer are both concerned with poisons and cures. Both books diagnose toxins in modern society – drug addiction, emotional alienation, mainstream medicine, and the corruption of money. But their treatments – both medical and literary – are quite different. Rosie Scott’s novel is a roar of anger about dying street kids, a story that relies on emotional heat and lip-biting hope for its momentum. Georgia Blain is cooler. She tests her characters’ resilience with the impartial curiosity of a capricious god sending down disasters to make the story more interesting. You know that Scott wants her characters to survive, but Blain seems less sentimental. Rosie Scott is still ‘keeping company with the passionately uncool’ in her new novel Faith Singer. The eponymous narrator is a ferocious mother bear to the young junkies of King’s Cross who wander into the café where she works. She’s all impulse and emotion, a fiftysomething retired rock singer who rescues street kids to assuage the pain of her own daughter’s overdose. This is the story of her decision to save Angel, an ethereal fourteen-year-old new to the Cross. Faith is a great character, with her boozy sentimentality, her fierce passions, and her muddle-headed sermons on rock music. She’s growing old disgracefully, an unreconstructed radical who plays Rage Against the Machine and lectures scoffing street kids about the wisdom of Bruce Springsteen. The addict Angel is less involving. She is a junkie from a Bill Henson photograph – pale as a funeral lily, bruised but beautiful. I felt sorry for her friend, a cameo called ‘rat faced Tracey’, who wasn’t pretty enough to be in the story. We see Angel only as a projection of Faith’s need for another child to save. This is a novel full of abandoned children. Faith was abandoned by her mother at birth, and raised her own daughter without If novelists were nurses, they would be struck from the register for their erratic care of their characters assistance from the rock’n’roll dad. Some of the junkies have parents, but in the book’s biggest dramatic flourish, they are exposed as loveless hypocrites. The cure in Georgia Blain’s novel The Blind Eye is not uncool passion but homeopathic medicine. I was tremendously excited by the opening scene, a remote retreat where volunteers are taking part in a blind experiment on a homeopathic remedy. But what sounds like the start of a great psychological thriller is immediately set aside. The narrator, the homeopath Daniel, takes advantage of the isolation to tell the story of his patient Silas, a poor little rich kid with a self-destructive streak and a fierce pain in his heart. Daniel tries to tell the story with a physician’s detachment, even though he long ago abandoned traditional medicine. So the story of desperation and betrayal is told in formal stilted language, as if Blain, through Daniel, were peering at her characters through a microscope. Silas is as inchoate as Daniel is controlled. He’s a trust fund baby burning through his drugs, lovers and money. In order to cure Silas’ heartburn, Daniel probes into the past. Escaping his problems through a marijuana haze in a decaying country town, Silas fell in love with the blind daughter of a hermit homeopath. We cannot escape this girl’s literary significance – blind since birth, she can ‘see’ the auras of disease and pick the right essence every time. She is a beautiful fairytale who has never left her father’s commune. Just to spell it out, her name is Constance. There is Eden and a snake and a tragedy. But as Silas slowly unravels his guilty secret, Daniel, that stuffed shirt, has to confront one or two of his own. There’s a certain amount of soapy froth in both novels. It wasn’t enough to chart one tragedy. Both books are crammed with disasters and revelations, some of them central to the plot, some of them discarded along the way. Both novelists resort to deus ex machina to solve pesky plot problems. In The Blind Eye, acts of God resolve an unrequited affair and a relationship with a distant mother. Neither novelist trusts their story enough to let the actions speak for themselves. Ultimately, both novels are overwhelmed by editorialising. And that’s the sort of thing that should only ever be administered in homeopathic doses. Reviewed by Michelle Griffin.