Good Reading : October 2009
50 goodreading ı OCTOBER 2009 Synopsis: Maralinga is the story of young British Lieutenant Daniel Gardiner, whose posting to an atomic weapons testing ground in South Australia plunges him and his comrades into a violent and unforgiving landscape infected with madness and excitement. It is a story of love, and also of heartbreak: the heartbreak of the people who had walked their land unhindered for 40 000 years. Chapter 1 Elizabeth couldn't understand her father's passion for oleanders. Alfred Hoffmann had shifted from London to the leafy county of Surrey, where all forms of glorious flowering shrubs thrived, and yet in the impressive conservatory at the rear of his house he'd chosen to grow nothing but oleanders. A veritable forest of them, in all shapes and sizes. Some remained gangly bushes while others towered to a height of eighteen feet, their leathery leaves sweeping the arched dome of the conservatory.Their pink and white blossoms were not unattractive, but the overall impression was one of unruliness. They were cumbersome plants, there was no denying it, and very much at odds with the surrounding countryside. The entire situation was bewildering to Elizabeth. For as long as she could remember, her father had been a businessman, and a highly successful businessman at that. If, in his semi- retirement, he'd developed an interest in horticulture, which itself was surprising, why was he limiting himself to just one species? And why a species as mundane as the oleander, considered by some to be little more than a noxious weed -- perhaps even poisonous, if she were to believe her colleague at The Aldershot Courier-Mail. 'Don't go chewing on the leaves, Elizabeth,'Walter had warned her during an afternoon tea-break, 'you'll end up as sick as a dog.' When she'd laughed, he'd assured her he wasn't joking. 'Why on earth did Daddy choose oleanders?' she finally asked her mother. 'I've no idea.' Marjorie Hoffmann had accepted her husband's idiosyncratic behaviour without question, as she always did. 'Perhaps it's his love of travel.' Noting her daughter's mystified expression, she drifted a typically vague hand through the air as if she were conducting a heavenly choir. 'I mean they're so ... Mediterranean, aren't they?' Mother and daughter were very alike in appearance. Above average height and regal of bearing, both had dark eyes and auburn hair offset by the fairest of complexions, creating an overall effect that was striking. They were the sort of women people refer red to as handsome. In character, however, they could not have differed more greatly. Elizabeth was already wondering why she'd bothered asking her mother about the oleanders. She should have known better. 'They're all over the place in Europe,' Marjorie blithely continued, 'particularly in Italy and Greece. I'd rather he'd chosen olive trees myself -- symbolism and beauty combined. I would have enjoyed painting olive trees.' Marjorie's skill with watercolours was considerable; her landscapes adorned the walls of many a boutique gallery in London. 'But there you are, that's Alfred.' With an impatient shake of her head, Elizabeth gave up on her mother and made the enquiry directly of her father, whose response, although less vague than his wife's, was ultimately just as unfathomable. 'I admire the oleander,' he said after she'd cornered him in the conservatory where he sat with a glass of claret. 'So hardy. Such a passion for life. It's heat and drought resistant, you know, can survive anywhere.' He appeared most gratified by her interest. 'Versatile too. Is it a shrub or is it a tree?' Stroking his trim grey beard thoughtfully, he gazed up at the tallest of the plants. 'As you can see, Elizabeth, it can be either. All dependent upon the way it's pruned. Don't you find such adaptability marvellous?' Elizabeth didn't, and she didn't see how her father could either. 'Somebody told me it's poisonous,' she said in her customary blunt fashion, 'but that's not true, surely.' 'Oh yes, quite true.The whole plant's highly toxic. Leaves, branches, bark -- the sap in particular. Ingestion can produce gastrointestinal and cardiac effects, which, I believe, can be fatal -- to children anyway, and most certainly to animals.' 'Ah, so that's it.' All had suddenly become clear. Elizabeth's grin was triumphant. Her father's chain of phar maceutical outlets, over which he still presided as chairman, made him first and foremost a businessman, but didn't alter the fact that he had started out a humble, and highly dedicated, chemist. It was only natural that such a man would be interested in the chemical properties of a potentially lethal plant. 'That's what?' 'The oleanders.You're making a study of their chemistry.' BOOKBITE by Judy Nunn Maralinga In the first chapter of Maralinga, meet headstrong Elizabeth Hoffman and her amiably eccentric parents.