Coral Lansbury




book review


Coral Lansbury

RINGARRA IS a Gothic novel. While set in present time it observes all of the conventions of the traditional Gothic. It traces the tale of Katsie, a 'liberated' young American woman in the Australian homeland of her intended husband. Together they are combining sight-seeing and business, visiting isolated sheep stations.

In the treacherous Australian bush, storms beat down constantly. With their car trapped in mud, Katsie steps out and feels her balanced and logical mind being prickled and disturbed by dark forces that seem to hover everywhere. The tension builds.

They arrive at Ringarra and find the owner, Michael Taverner, shooting a horse. Taverner – the Satanic lover of Gothic lore – has a murky past in Rhodesia, is concealing a major fraud and uses his demonic powers to evoke fear and exert control. He delights in feeding his foes to wild pigs. He also has the requisite mad wife (she eventually hangs herself and is discovered by Katsie in a particularly chilling episode).

Katsie is besotted. Before the journey began she had a strange dream of women joyously having their throats cut and bellies ripped out in sexual rapture. After meeting Taverner she recognises herself in the dream. She sees Taverner as Captain Murder – he'll possess her and devour her. And she wants him to. But she doesn't want to want him to ...

In the physical and psychic battle with Taverner, Katsie draws on her level thinking (she's a highly qualified mathematician) and the strength of her Quaker upbringing (ahem!) but ultimately it is her own terror that counteracts him. In Gothic stylee she wins, although the very ending is not the expected Gothic finale ...

Ringarra is a ripping read. Yet its author is Professor Of English at Rutgers University USA and the book stemmed from a debate within the feminist caucus of the Modern Language Association. In these circles the traditional Gothic is a subject of great interest and speculation regarding possible feminist sub-texts and intentions.

Coral Lansbury unpopularly considers the Gothic to be 'female pornography' and set about writing neither spoof nor critical study but a serious Gothic wherein a commentary on the form would be contained within the context of the novel.

The book is shot through with references to Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights et al, and in many ways is a wickedly insidious satire. As such it can amuse but its thrills and chills are genuine and beneath it all is a thinly veiled provocation.

Coral Lansbury sits back to enjoy the controversy – and I'm still thinking about it.


mick sinclair

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