Reviewed by Ian Lipke
Darry Fraser is an author new to me although she seems to be a prolific writer. Her publications include Daughter of the Murray, The Widow of Ballarat, Elsa Goody, Bushranger and several others. Now appears The Prodigal Sister. Fraser seems to be one of the sisterhood who feel that women writers have been neglected on the publishing scene. There is a substantial push to re-dress the balance. I can do naught but applaud. Some fine writing is appearing and we’re all the better served for the efforts of both women and men writers.
But sometimes the writing is uneven. The Prodigal Sister is one such book. It tells the tale of a young woman named Prudence North who, having won an advanced degree in arts, returns to Australia, only to be accosted by a senior policeman, told that her father is about to be arrested unless she can make herself known to a character named Jasper Darke and worm his secrets from him. Since Jasper’s physique is spectacular, his character fine, his humour…you get the picture, Prudence falls in love with him. A dead body appears in Dr North’s surgery. Prudence applies her knowledge of forensics (learned as a subject in her degree platform) by finding a significant boot print. All is in vain as the police stomp through the crime scene. She is a woman and her views are not to be taken seriously.
There is no further need to outline the plot. It appears in one form or another in much contemporary fiction. Darry Fraser’s book has several saving graces. She introduces a number of intriguing characters: Valerie, Prudence’s sister, when the mood takes her, stubbornly holds her ground. “As she shuffled past Prudence in the hall, the set of her mouth and the stern look in her eye signalled that Valerie would not be budged” (291). Fraser can introduce an aspect of a character, and thereby alter the direction of the plot as well as the preconceptions of the reader. For example, Everard Bankston is presented as the police officer who blackmailed Prudence at the book’s beginning, is later revealed as an accomplished pickpocket on page 275. A major character in the story, Bankston is also an overwritten figure who takes all prizes for insensitivity. Fraser’s writing is almost imagistic in its clarity.
She’d flown at him, thrashing around and throwing things. After that, he had needed to walk, steady and calming.
This violence again. She must be losing her mind. He’d speak to Gregory about it, ask, demand that something be done for her. As soon as he’d tried to calm Valerie her rage had grown (275).
What better way to demonstrate a point of view that feminists have been trying to highlight for decades? There is good quality writing here.
The reverse is the case when the book opens. Prudence has been arrested by two constables, later joined by Everard Bankston, a senior policeman. Her responses to the authorities display her mettle but is placatory given her situation.
Prudence scoffed while looking about the room at the dirty walls, and the only window smudged…He must have thought her a fool… “And why aren’t other police around… (8)?
Perhaps the most difficult item to reconcile with my understanding is the word ‘prodigal’ in the title. If the title is a tilt at the Biblical ‘prodigal son’ it misses its target. They have nothing in common.
There are instances of writing that should have been edited at a higher standard, but there are many more examples of fine writing that should not be missed. I feel that this novel joins the list of recommended reading without opposition.
By Darry Fraser
$29.99; 416 pp