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Victor Kelleher Biography

london university africa kestrel

Pseudonym: Veronica Hart. Nationality: British (also a citizen of Australia). Born: Victor Michael Kitchener Kelleher in London, 1939. Education: The University of Natal, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, B.A. in English 1962; University of St. Andrews, Fife, Dip. Ed. 1963; University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, B.A. (honors) 1969; University of South Africa, Pretoria, M.A. 1970, D. Litt. et Phil. 1973. Career: Junior lecturer in English, University of the Witwatersrand, 1969; lecturer, then senior lecturer, in English, University of South Africa, 1970-73; lecturer in English, Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand, 1973-76; senior lecturer, 1976-84, and associate professor of English, 1984-87, University of New England, Armidale, New South Wales. Awards: Patricia Hackett prize, for short story, 1978; West Australian Young Readers' Book award, 1982, 1983, 1993; Australia Council fellowship, 1982, 1989-91, 1995-98; Australian Children's Book of the Year award, 1983, 1987; Australian Science Fiction Achievement award, 1984; Australian Children's Book Council Honour award, 1987, 1991; Australian Peace prize, 1989; Koala award, 1991; Hoffman award, 1992, 1993; Cool award, 1993.

PUBLICATIONS

Novels

Voices from the River. London, Heinemann, 1979; St. Lucia, University of Queensland Press, 1991.

The Beast of Heaven. St. Lucia, University of Queensland Press, 1984.

Em's Story. St. Lucia, University of Queensland Press, 1988.

Wintering. St. Lucia, University of Queensland Press, 1990.

Micky Darlin'. St. Lucia, University of Queensland Press, 1992.

Double God (as Veronica Hart). Melbourne and London, Mandarin, 1994.

The House That Jack Built (as Veronica Hart). Melbourne andLondon, Mandarin, 1994.

Fire Dancer. Ringwood, Victoria and New York, Viking, 1996.

Storyman. Milsons Point, New South Wales, Random House Australia, 1996.

Earthsong. Ringwood, Victoria, Puffin Books, 1997.

Into the Dark. Ringwood, Victoria, Viking, 1999.

Short Stories

Africa and After. St. Lucia, University of Queensland Press, 1983; asThe Traveller, 1987.

Other (for young adults)

Forbidden Paths of Thual. London, Kestrel, 1979.

The Hunting of Shadroth. London, Kestrel, 1981.

Master of the Grove. London, Kestrel, 1982.

Papio. London, Kestrel, 1984; as Rescue, New York, Dial Books, 1992.

The Green Piper. Melbourne, Viking Kestrel, 1984; London, VikingKestrel, 1985.

Taronga. Melbourne, Viking Kestrel, 1986; London, Hamish Hamilton, 1987.

The Makers. Melbourne, Viking Kestrel, 1987.

Baily's Bones. Melbourne, Viking Kestrel, 1988; New York, DialPress, 1989.

The Red King. Melbourne, Viking Kestrel, 1989; New York, DialPress, 1990.

Brother Night. London, MacRae, 1990; New York, Walker, 1991.

Del-Del. London, MacRae/Random House, 1991; New York, Walker, 1992.

To the Dark Tower. London, MacRae/Random House, 1992.

Where the Whales Sing. Melbourne and London, Viking, 1994; published as Riding the Whales, New York, Dial, 1995.

Parkland. Melbourne and New York, Viking, 1994.

* * *

Although he has spent considerable periods of time in several countries, it is his experiences in Africa that dominate Kelleher's fiction. He says of himself, "Central Africa, where I was to spend a good portion of the next twenty years [after leaving England], did more to alter my attitudes and prospects than anything before or since," and he speaks also of his immense grief at being compelled to leave it. His first novel, Voices from the River is, like most of his work, a study of the many forms that racism and also racial interaction generally can take, and of the necessity of finding what is universal in human nature that can overcome the superficialities of differences in the color of skin. The voices belong to five different people: two brothers, Davy and Jonno, their father Cole (whom one or both of them murder), and two policemen, Samuels and Priestly, who are temperamentally and philosophically poles apart. In its complex structure and deliberate, even willful creation of uncertainty about motive and even fact, the novel seems influenced by Faulkner. Kelleher's view of Africa and Africans is far from misty-eyed. In many ways the novel could be read as a critique of the philanthropic liberalism of Samuels, who returns after retirement to England. But the fact that he is killed because, as Priestly had predicted, he is too trusting and sentimental, is offset by the large numbers of Africans at his funeral.

Africa and After contains fifteen stories: seven set in Africa, one bridging story which looks back upon Africa from self-imposed exile, and seven set in Australia, where Kelleher finally settled. The first half of the book is far better than the second. The material itself is richer, and Kelleher's imagery seems engaged by it in a way that is not true of the later stories where the view of human behavior is often reductive and even cynical, the observations of an uninvolved outsider.

Kelleher has spoken of his wish to write in a diverse variety of modes. He is a very successful writer of young adult fiction and has published two bloodthirsty novels of terror under the pseudonym of Veronica Hart. Even his third book of adult fiction under his own name, The Beast of Heaven, represents another radical departure from anything he had written previously. The novel is set 100, 000 years after a nuclear holocaust that has taken place in the year 2027, and is a moral fable about the merit of continuing the human race. Two computers, the survivors of a war which destroyed the "Ancients" who created them, debate the issue while the only survivors, the peaceful Gatherers, struggle amid the desolate landscape to eke out a living and to evade the predatory Houdin, the Beast of Heaven. It is an ingeniously constructed and often lyrically written novel which leads ineluctably to an apocalyptic ending of dreadful irony. Reviewers have mentioned Dylan Thomas in connection with it but a more appropriate analogy would be with Yeats' "The Second Coming."

Em's Story returns us to Africa and the question of race. A young woman named Eva is asked by her grandmother Emma Wilhelm to write the story of an heroic trek she undertook sixty years before. Rebelling against her German ancestors and their virtual extinction of the Hereros, she offers shelter to a Herero tribesman and then makes love to him. After he is murdered by her father, she sets out on her journey north to rejoin the remnants of the tribe she has come to accept as her own people. Sixty years later, her granddaughter undertakes the same journey in circumstances which, as she observes, are markedly different, bent on a similar mission of reconciliation and recovery of her personal identity. Kelleher cuts frequently between past and present, and the similarity of Eva's circumstances to those of Em are pointedly stressed, but the novel's emphasis is on the healing and hopeful qualities of Eva's journey across the bridge between white and black Africa.

Wintering is set in Australia in 1988, the year of the bicentennial, but returns to many of the same themes as Kelleher's earlier fiction. The narrator, a young man named Jack Rudd, writes out his story in between visiting his friend Benny, who lies comatose in hospital. The novel cuts rapidly between the present—Benny's condition and Jack's struggle to revive his relationship with his Aboriginal former girlfriend Bridget—the past of a year before, and the events that led to Benny's destruction and the end of the relationship. Once again, Kelleher finds the soil of Australia a little too arid to write the kind of novel he had in mind: his 1960s white radicals are hardly more complex or interesting than his Redfern Aboriginals, and the upbeat ending of the novel is both startling and unconvincing. Nevertheless, the pleasures to be found in this work are those in all of his fiction—a fine ear for dialogue, a command of narrative, an ability to evoke landscape, and more importantly and less definably, a fundamental integrity in the way he approaches the issues that concern him.

The same qualities are evident in Micky Darlin', in which the author has returned to the first of his three countries for his material. The book consists of a number of interrelated stories which together comprise a history of the sprawling Donoghue family of Irish expatriates, spread over many years and narrated by the eponymous Micky. Beginning in the early 1940s in wartime London when Micky is of preschool age, the tales take us through the following decade when Micky has grown to be a young adult, the witness and recorder of the family's progressive disintegration over the different generations. More or less abandoned by his weak mother and alcoholic father, Micky has been brought up by his grandparents, Nan and Gramps, but when Gramps dies in a foolish accident, the family falls apart and the embittered Micky feels forsaken yet again. In the hands of a lesser writer the Donoghues would be almost Irish stereotypes—constantly drinking, brawling, angrily divided from another over questions of religion—but Kelleher's unsentimental, sharply observant prose brings them alive.

—Laurie Clancy

Holly Keller (1942-) Biography - Awards, Honors, Sidelights - Personal, Addresses, Career, Writings [next]

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