REVIEW

Ceridwen Dovey's portrayal of middle-aged school friends in Life After Truth is an intriguing premise

  • Life After Truth, by Ceridwen Dovey. Viking. $32.99.

Having enjoyed the mischievous charm of Ceridwen Dovey's collection of stories, Only the Animals, involving astute observations about human behaviour from the souls of well-connected lesser creatures, I was keen to read her new novel, Life After Truth.

A single sentence synopsis would suggest an appealing narrative: 15 years after graduation from Harvard, five friends "on the cusp of middle-age" meet at a college reunion, "still pursuing elusive happiness and wondering if they've wasted their youthful opportunities".

A promising outline, surely, but perhaps unfulfilled. More of which later.

The five central characters are scarily smart, and (mostly) rich and famous.

Jules is a successful film star; Jomo, the founder and director of a gem company, and Louise is a professor of hedonics (the science of happiness and pleasure) and a best-selling author of high-end self-help books.

Making up the five are married couple, Rowan, a high school principal in the lower paid public stream with lofty principles, and Mariam, mother of their two daughters, and a sometime pastry chef.

The problem, as I see it, has to do with structure and narrative style.

Each chapter marks a time scale for the reunion weekend, taking the friends' differing points of view in sequence, with a third-person narration.

But the style is discursive rather than descriptive; exposition with minimal dialogue, forming - for want of a better phrase - internalised monologues.

These are often witty and occasionally wise, but apt to wander off into a series of Russian Doll linked memories, leaving this reader impressed by their sophisticated intelligence, but also wishing they might have been shown rather than told.

An appearance of Frederick Reese, the son of a recently elected, and much despised, Presidential Trump clone, fails to focus narrative action beyond a moment of surprise.

However, beneath the carefully studied surface of this intriguing novel the chemistry is still bubbling.

Jules and Jomo are noisily opting for a quieter life; Louise is considering taking advice from a robotic model of her own brain; Rowan's self-consciously defensive grudge about principled penury is causing ructions, while Mariam is coyly embarrassed about rediscovering her religious faith.

In short, this novel has much to offer (and cover quotes suggest much has been received) but sadly, for me - fondly remembering Only the Animals - it stalls for perceptions of technique.

  • Ian McFarlane is a Canberra author and reviewer.
This story A post-grad portrait of the pursuit of happiness first appeared on The Canberra Times.