Magnetic Island, a novel
Hardback, 480 pages, $49.95
Amazing and very funny, Magnetic Island is also a rumination on art, history and politics as original as it is shocking.
Patrick Mynts, the owner of a London art gallery, has arrived Australia on a government junket. In Australia’s National Gallery, he is stunned by the work of an artist called Tray Beautous. As Tray’s paintings are unknown in London and New York, Mynts is convinced that he can make a fortune by selling them there.
Patrick also meets Dewy Popkiss in Canberra, the Prime Minister of Australia. Dew warns Mynts that only he will be able to arrange for the Londoner to get in touch with Beautous because Tray is a recluse who has hidden himself away on Magnetic Island in remote, tropical North Queensland. Dew will only agree to make the arrangements that will bring the two together, however, if Pat agrees to persuade Tray to paint a married couple of Dew’s acquaintance when they are “making the beast with two backs”. If Mynts manages to arrange this ménage à trois, Dew promises that the couple who are determined to perform in it will reward him stupendously.
Patrick agrees to the deal and goes off to visit an elderly Canberra relative. Suddenly, however, the spirit of Brooklana Fagan - the dead wife of Australia’s former Prime Minister - seems to ventriloquise his kinswoman’s dementia-muzzled body. “Brookee” tells Pat that the couple whom Dew wants Tray to paint will use the sitting to murder the artist because they feel that one of the sculptures he has created insults the goddess that they worship, Christina Stead, the famous Australian novelist. (In the fashion of deceased Roman Empresses, Christina is now worshipped by millions worldwide).
Pat now faces a Hamlet-like dilemma. Should he reject Dewy’s commission? Or should he act on it and embrace, perhaps, eternal damnation for accepting the Premier’s 30 pieces of silver?