One of the more common trials of growing up is having one’s mother insist that you “eat your vegetables.”  Many of us can recall sitting at the dinner table with what seems to be a mountain of green beans on the plate and being forced to consume the lot before being granted permission to leave the table.  Sometimes reading a book is like that; one begins with a fork full of prose hoping that the flavor will improve but then, after reducing the bulk by about a third, finds the prospect of consuming the whole a daunting challenge.  Although I had no parental figure standing over me to demand that I finish the longest Australian novel ever written, I felt obligated to clean my plate of Poor Fellow My Country before I could move on to more enjoyable reading.  My two months of labor to reduce this tome to a review was concluded last night, and I often felt like abandoning the task during that time.

Poor Fellow is a verbose, tiring narrative of Jeremy Delacy, a cantankerous veterinarian/druggist/squatter living on a rather large rural land holding in northern Australia.  Jeremy is disillusioned with just about everything, and he is pretty free in expressing it to anyone willing to listen to his tiresome rants.  In fact, the novel begins with dozens of pages devoted to a nocturnal lecture Jeremy delivers to a guest at his homestead to explain just why he is so jaded at the Australian character and its treatment of the country’s resources and original inhabitants.   That lecture more or less sets the tone for the remaining 1,300 odd pages as a host of characters are introduced, used as foils for Jeremy’s disdain, and are either killed off or sent out of the narrative.  At the end there really are no survivors among the main characters, if a book of this length can be said to have main characters.

Poor Fellow is not without merit, however.  It won the Miles Franklin prize when it was published in 1975 and it has parts where the story is somewhat exciting.  The author has real talent in painting word pictures of the landscape and Aboriginal culture, and some of the more sarcastic passages are quite amusing.  However, whatever the author had to say could have been done in less than half the bulk of this vegetable plate, and I think most readers would question as I have if the consuming was worth the effort.

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I applaud your perseverance, I have yet to get through more than a dozen pages of this book and based on your review, I will forego the dubious pleasure.

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