June 2009

Arts & Letters

‘Reunion’ by Andrea Goldsmith

By Jo Case

Andrea Goldsmith's new novel is truly exciting. Like its brilliant protagonists, Reunion is passionate about ideas, dissecting them thoroughly and hungrily. A kind of inner-city intellectual counterpart to Christos Tsiolkas's suburban masterpiece The Slap, it is a novel about how we live now, about the lifestyles and values of present-day Melbourne and, by extension, Australia. By juxtaposing today's city with the very different Melbourne of the late 1970s, Goldsmith illuminates the cultural and physical changes that have taken place in the years between the Whitlam and Howard eras. In particular, she charts the shift in morality and the way that technology is transforming communication and knowledge - and with them, relationships.

Bestselling novelist Ava, world-renowned scientist Helen, acclaimed popular philosopher Connie and underachieving religion expert Jack ("the brightest of them all") attended university together in the '70s, a time of free education and lofty ideals. At Oxford, they met fellow Australian Harry, an eccentric, old-money collector who married Ava, much to the others' disgust. Twenty years later, "homunculus" Harry heads a major new think-tank, NOGA, and he has lured Ava's friends back to Melbourne as the organisation's inaugural fellows. Goldsmith takes the reader deep beneath the skin of these characters, shifting between narrators to show each from a variety of perspectives: how they see themselves, how they project themselves to the world, how others see them. The truth, of course, lies somewhere in between, and half the novel's fun is in puzzling it out.

Reunion explores the passions that drive the old friends and the compromises they consider when threatened with the loss of their driving force. "It is the storms that matter, the storms that test you," observes Helen, struggling to hold onto her ideals and her beloved science. The NOGA fellows are all faced with questions about the corporatisation of knowledge and its associated costs. The friends are devoted to the primacy of ‘the examined life'; yet they deliberately avoid - in their work and relationships - much important knowledge and insight.

 Reunion is dense with ideas that never overpower its characters and plot, but instead drive them with a seemingly instinctual logic.

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