Three Dog Night
If love is an obsessive-compulsive disorder - same driven behaviour, same altered brain state, same chemistry - then I have been ill for years. But never as sick with bliss, as diseased, as now.
Is it possible to be too happy? When Martin Blackman returns to Adelaide after ten years in London, he has never been happier. A shadow falls across that happiness when he introduces Lucy, his English wife, to his childhood friend Felix, and finds Felix changed beyond recognition. The mystery of that change triggers the darkest of journeys for all three - through the treacherous terrain of their own feelings, to a final Sorry Business a thousand miles to the north and thousands of years distant in culture...
Chapter 1 Extract
If love is an Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder - same driven behaviour, same altered brain state, same chemistry - then I have been ill for years. But never as sick with bliss, as diseased, as now.
Sunday, mid-morning, early summer. My tenth day back in Australia after ten years of study overseas - ten years hard mental labour in London. I am driving Lucy - my compulsion, my obsession - up into the Adelaide Hills for the first time. The day has taken its name to heart: a Sunday from the glory box of Sundays, a luminous morning saturated with sunlight and parrots. Happiness rises in my throat, thick as cud; the world outside the car - wholly blue and gold - almost seems too much for my senses, too tight a squeeze.
'Paradise,' Lucy murmurs, smitten.
Her voice, our common thought. There might be higher mountains on the planet than the Adelaide Hills, but they are no closer to heaven. Each valley, a little deeper and greener than the last, and each ridge, a little higher and bluer, seems another step in some sort of ascension. Even the names of the steps have a heavenly sound; Lucy speaks the words softly as the freeway exits slide past, big-print, white on green. Littlehampton. Oakbank. Aldgate. Bridgewater.
Music to my ears. I might be hearing the familiar place-names for the first time, the imported words back where they belong, melting on an English tongue.
With the new sounds come new sights, as if I am seeing the Hills for the first time also, through her fresh eyes. The compact red hatchback - borrowed from my mother - carries us steadily upwards. Each valley cups a single small town in its palm: a church spire, sometimes two, an old stone school, a single aisle of craft shops and Devonshire tea-rooms and petrol pumps.
Village is the better word for these untypical Australian towns, perhaps even hamlet; wanting to hear more English music, I wish the words into Lucy's mouth. She is straining forward against her seatbelt, peering out through the windscreen, neck extended, face lifted, a pair of fine wire-rimmed glasses perched on the bridge of her nose.
An extra rush of pleasure: her nearness, as always, makes me, simply, happy; so happy I sometimes feel I am drowning, struggling in the waters of a happiness far beyond my depth.
'They used to have ugly names,' I say, perversely.
She glances at me, puzzled.
'Germans settled these areas. The church spires are all Lutheran. The names were changed after the War. Anglicised.'
Another exit catches her eye. 'Hahndorf kept its name?'
'Changed back again. For the tourist trade.'
'Don't spoil it for me, Marty. It reminds me of home. It's not at all what I expected Australia to be like.'
'You expected desert?'
'I didn't expect an English country garden.'
The names of imported trees replace the names of towns as she points out examples, their different, richer greens scattered among the dusty khaki of the native eucalypts. Silver birch, golden elm, copper beech, golden poplar, weeping willow. More music to my ears; she could be singing those words, setting them to some common ancestral melody. Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme...
Again I try to restrain my happiness, feeling dangerously loosened by it, made reckless.
'Some of us don't like the introduced species, Luce.'
She turns to me, surprised.
'Especially the pines. When I was a kid there was a kind of terrorist cell up here. GROAP.'
'An acronym. Get Rid Of All Pines.'
'Is this another tease, Marty?'
'I kid you not. They actually used to bomb trees.'
Her full upper lip, a flautist's protruding lip, is flattened by a stifled laugh. 'Bomb them?'
'With dynamite. But only pine trees - introduced pines.'
'Why pick on pines?'
'Nothing can grow under them. Native birds can't live in them.'
'You seem well-informed. I don't suppose you were a member?'
'Not card-carrying. But sympathetic. A fellow-traveller. I used to do a little bird-watching...'
A pair of brilliantly coloured parrots appears flying parallel to the freeway, as if to test my credentials. The road is nearing heaven surely; such a gift is beyond coincidence. The birds veer in front of the speeding car for a time, bright-painted dolphins surfing the bow wave of a small red ship, then swerve away again, bored with the game.
'Rainbow Lorikeet,' I pronounce.
She laughs, gratified. 'I can just see you as a birdwatcher.'
'Oh? And what exactly can you see?'
'A serious little boy. Not so much living in the world as studying it. Swotting it.'
'A story of love and jealousy brought to a powerfully orchestrated climax in the vastness of the central Australian desert. Goldsworthy's most ambitious novel thus far, his most intricately crafted, and his best.'
'An intense and brilliant novel about the fathomless human capacity for self-deception... The novel's powerful climax is a measure of its accomplishment. It moves towards a dramatic instant, around which swirl all the ambiguities teased out by the narrative. Goldsworthy's prose is so smooth, it is easy to underestimate how artful it is; he is in command of his material. Three Dog Night is a work of concentrated formal elegance that confirms Goldsworthy's status as one of Australia's best novelists.'
James Ley, Sydney Morning Herald
'A beautifully told story that defeats the reader's expectations at every turn... Three Dog Night is an outstanding Australian story. Its subject will resonate, and its power will make it a strong contender for literary awards. It will appeal to readers of literary fiction, but it is so well told that it should enjoy a wide audience.'
Lachlan Jobbins, Australian Bookseller and Publisher