BY PHIL FITZPATRICK
The main character in both works of fiction is an ultra-conservative and very repressed Englishman called Temlett Conibeer. Temlett hails from Devonshire and works in pre-independent Papua New Guinea. He has a perchance for cats and Victoriana. His dominating pre-occupation is finding a suitable wife.
The prose is masterful but a bit lumpy here and there. You get the impression that both works are compilations; some things are unnecessarily repeated and there are a couple of editing slips that suggest a revision from first to third person in mid stream. This is especially disconcerting in the first book.
The same suite of subsidiary characters in both books hops across locations inexplicably, propping up barstools in Rabaul and then Madang as if by magic.
Temlett’s views are extremely right wing, as are those of most of the other characters. Eric, the location hopping ex-nazi who refers to Hitler as ‘the boss’ and maintains that most problems can be solved by having the offenders ‘shot’ is the most extreme.
This is not a criticism of the author’s characterisations. When I thought about it I realised they were spot on. In the days of the Territory of Papua New Guinea they abounded. It is an uncomfortable truth however.
It doesn’t take long to realise that poor old Temlett, with a broomstick firmly shoved down the back of his shirt, is never going to capture his true lady love, no matter how seedy his attempts.
I don’t think the author intended this doomed quest as a device to maintain suspense and once it’s out in the open it’s possible to enjoy the other aspects of the books.
Towards the end of the second book the plot tends to become a bit too coincidental and the amorous scenarios a bit far-fetched. Strangely enough, the latter are more uncomfortable than titillating. The walk-on, location hopping, characters and the ritual encounters with them in the local club also becomes a bit tedious.
And before I forget; the author spells bilum as billum. A minor point perhaps but it can affect the authority of a work. I made the same criticism of Rosemary Esmonde Peterswald in her book Bird of Paradise. I don’t think it is intentional in either case. I’ve since discovered that a certain automatic spell-check program slips in the extra consonant without the writer noticing. Best to turn it off or add the word to the dictionary I think.
If you read the author blurbs at the back of each book you discover that Andrew Marke was born in the west of England, worked for Treasury, Health and HELP in TPNG and is interested in cats and the Victorian age. The obvious inference is that both books are semi-autobiographical.
The rebuff is that most works of fiction have an autobiographical element, just as they borrow from other authors, and to suggest otherwise is naive. This was something which I could never explain satisfactorily to my late parents. I imagine Andrew Marke might have a similar problem.
His other interest according to the blurbs is nostalgia and that is precisely what I got out of both books. This is his forte; the atmosphere, mode, mores, sense of place and even scents of the old TPNG come across in a delicious manner.
I’d say, buy the second book, Love in a Hot Climate, and if you like it try the first, Love on the Run; the one doesn’t necessarily follow the other.
Both books are available by writing to Andrew Marke at 187 Low Head Road, Low Head, Tasmania, 7253. They cost $30 each, including postage.