Moving Among Strangers: Randolph Stow and My Family, is a family memoir. It is a wonderful glimpse into the life of Randolph Stow, one of Western Australia’s most revered writers. It also about the area where my grandmother’s family settled in the nineteenth century, and where my mother grew up.
Gabrielle Carey uses as her starting point for Moving Among Strangers the connection between her intensely private, if not secretive mother (Joan Carey, nee Ferguson) and the equally reclusive writer, Randolph Stow. Gabrielle Carey’s fascination with Stow and his writing permeates the book.
In her quest to uncover more about the relationship between Stow and her mother, Gabrielle Carey also writes about the relationships within her family of origin, and her extended family.
While her mother is dying, the author initiates correspondence with the author, Randolf Stow, who moved to England following the savage criticism meted out by Australian reviewers of his novel Tourmaline (1963).
After the death of her mother from a brain tumour Gabrielle Carey travels from Sydney to Perth. There she attends a Randolph Stow memorial event.
In Western Australia, she tries to find out more about her mother’s connection with Randolph Stow, a man thirteen years her junior. In Perth, she is warmly welcomed by her father’s family, from whom her father had been estranged.
Gabrielle Carey travels with a cousin to Geraldton, four hundred kilometres north of Perth. Randolph Stow grew up there. Carey’s mother, Joan, worked there as a nurse as a young woman.
While working at the Geraldton hospital, Joan frequently visited the Stow family. They befriended her in much the same way as her family, owners of Houghton Winery in the Swan Valley, had looked out for Stow when he was a schoolboy at Guildford Grammar School.
Gabrielle Carey later travels to Harwich in England. Stow spent most of the later part of his life in Harwich before his death in 2010. She visits the house where he lived. She talks to his neighbours and goes to the local pub. People share with her their reminiscences about the reclusive old author.
My maternal family, like that of Randolph Stow, were also among the early settlers in the area around Geraldton. (See my posts Custodians of my past and Booklovers’ surprise. This association may explain, some of my own fascination with the writing of Randolph Stow.
It helps to explain the pleasure I felt when I read Gabrielle Carey’s account of her visit to the area. She notes the connections between that particular country and the landscape. She describes the connection between the landscape and characters in Stow’s writing. These are especially strong in his novels Merry-Go-Round in the Sea and Tourmaline.
Gabrielle Carey also writes about Stow’s fascination with the many shipwrecks that occurred along the coast near Geraldton, and particularly the wreckage of the Dutch sailing ship, Batavia, and the subsequent mutiny of the crew.
She says, ‘Perhaps Stow saw the Batavia tragedy as precipitating what he believed to be an Australian propensity for Messianic cults.’ This idea underpins Stow’s Tourmaline and The Visitants. Carey says that, for Stow, the wreck of the Batavia symbolised a pair of mirrored images, Australia as a prison and as Eden. These twin themes are reflected in his writing.
This beautiful little memoir, which was long listed for the Stella Prize in 2014. It reads like a series of gentle meditations on a variety of closely linked subjects.
- family memoir;
- a biography of Randolph Stow, the twice-Miles Franklin Award winning novelist;
- a description of ‘Stow Country’ and its influence on Randolph Stow’s writing;
- a deep appreciation, even reverence, for the novels of an amazing Australian author; and Western Australian history.
Moving Among Strangers: Randolph Stow and my Family has propelled me to re-visit some of Stow’s novels and poetry.