I read A Short History of Richard Kline ahead of hearing Amanda Lohrey speak at the Sydney Writers Festival this year. It seems a long time ago now, and reminds me just how far behind I am with blogging my book reviews. Fortunately the non-fiction manuscript is almost finished and I finally have slightly more time on my hands.
A Short History of Richard Kline is the story of one man’s search for meaning, a spiritual journey. Richard Kline is a middle-aged man living in Sydney who feels something lots of people in the modern world can identify with – that there’s something missing in his life. It is the classic mid-life crisis.
“Today I would say that for much of my life I suffered from an apprehension of lack,” he tells us.
Looking back at his childhood, he tries religion, then science, then sex and girls in his search for some sort of meaning. The story travels fairly quickly, mainly in first person, through his teenage years, twenties, marriage, children and work overseas. He sees doctors for depression and then tries meditation and finally ‘cracks open’ with uncontrollable tears in the presence of of an Indian spiritual guru in a suburban church hall. So begins Richard’s quest for spiritual enlightenment with his own local guru.
Lohrey’s writing is beautifully evocative and often wise and I enjoyed the many scenes where she picked apart the way people behave. But the spiritual enlightenment stuff just left me cold.
At the writers festival, she said that Australia didn’t have much of a tradition of the meta-physical novel and I wondered at the time if readers like me are the reason why. Other reviews have noted that this story is an allegory – a literary device to convey hidden meanings through symbolic actions. I do wonder if this story would have been better as a memoir-style book about searching for spiritual meaning and travels through the gamut of Eastern philosophies.
While I enjoyed reading many of the scenes, Richard’s inner journey just wasn’t compelling enough to engage me in this story. But Lohrey’s writing is lovely enough for me to try some of her other works, with Camille’s Bread the most popular.