I reviewed this in the Sunday Star Times yesterday - posted here in case you missed it.
"Madness is the theme of Australian eminent man of letters Rodney Hall’s latest which made it an especially appropriate book for me to read right now having just finished Sebastian Faulk’s “Human Traces” which also has running through it the theme of madness and its treatment.
There are however two major differences in these two fine novels.
The Faulks is set in the latter days of the 19th century and tells the story of two doctors working in the psychiatric world while the Hall is set in the 1980’s where the protagonist is a patient in a mental hospital. So you might say the stories are told from opposite sides of the bed.
Love Without Hope is a beautifully written story and by Hall’s standards is most accessible. It tells the story of Lorna Shoddy and the plot revolves around whether or not she will escape the asylum and return to claim her farm and her beloved horses.
In a recent interview with the Sydney Morning Herald Hall said he asked himself what he would do if he were incarcerated in a mental institution at someone else’s whim and malicious intention. If you were not insane to begin with, surely you would become so under such circumstances. The line between sanity and insanity can be, after all, very fragile. One could easily topple over from one side into the other.
It happened to someone he knew in Brisbane in the 1970’s, “she had been missing for some years, then she told me her husband had done it to her. She was only in her 30’s, the idea started me thinking”.
From these ideas Hall has crafted a very fine literary novel. Disturbing at times, often actually, but always with a great sense of hope running through it we read of
small-town malice and the greed of several of its inhabitants leading to the incarceration of Lorna and of her desperate efforts to be freed.
Hall’s great characterisation skills shine through the story, particularly in the characters of Lorna and her wonderful, elderly alcoholic doctor, Dr.Parker, but also in the various dark characters responsible for Lorna’s plight.
This is small country town New South Wales in the 1980’s when there actually was a Department of Lunacy with an asylum superintendent titled the Master of Lunacy.
Hall captures the town and its residents perfectly.
Reading a novel so beautifully crafted as this one should not be surprised to learn that Hall has twice won the annual Miles Franklin Literary Award, one of the illustrious events on the Australian literary calendar
It was first one by Patrick Wright for “Voss’ in 1957 and has since been won by many of Australia’s leading writers including Tim Winton, Frank Moorhouse, Shirley Hazzard, Murray Bail, Peter Carey, David Malouf and Elizabeth Jolley.
Rodney Hall sits comfortably in this exalted company. Love without Hope is his 13th novel."