The Larnachs by Owen Marshall reviewby Elizabeth Alley
The Larnachs is a sensitive, compassionate and discreet reworking of fact.
With , he’s achieved a sensitive, compassionate and discreet recreation of a story that, in less able hands, could well have faltered.
In this fictional reworking of historical fact, Marshall takes the skeleton of the true story of William Larnach, squire of Larnach Castle and respected member of Parliament, his marriage to third wife Conny and her scandalous love affair with his son Douglas, culminating in William’s suicide in the Parliament Buildings. The familiar setting of Larnach Castle, with its large well-appointed estate, within the social fabric of colonial settlement in Otago and Wellington, provides a strong sense of reality and is the refined background against which Marshall imagines the unfolding of the doomed love affair. Interspersed are vivid glimpses of Richard Seddon and William Massey and the acerbic wider Larnach family.
Marshall’s voice has always had an elegant restraint, and, sensitive to the potential for this story to erupt into pure melodrama, he has pitched it perfectly.
On the face of it, this is a risky construct. Very little happens. Social life on the peninsula and political life in Wellington go on as normal. The tensions of the story rest entirely on the diminishing relationship between William and Conny and the developing passion between Conny and her stepson. There is minimal dialogue, and only the two counterbalanced narrative voices of Dougie and Conny, each recording their growing desperation and determination against a growing background of hostility and rumour that simmers throughout the genteel colonial province like a growing virus. In that it is filtered through these two voices, the full scandalous drama of the affair is more muted than sensational, but that seems entirely compatible with the protective carapace that surrounded the socially powerful.
The tragic outcome is historical fact, but the story is also a moving reflection on the nature of love amid the social constraints of the time. It was a story just waiting to be written. Thank goodness it was Marshall who wrote it.
THE LARNACHS, by Owen Marshall (Vintage, $39.99).
Elizabeth Alley is a Wellington reviewer.
Scandal piles on scandal for President Donald Trump. But there's a view that Stormy Daniels poses more of a threat than the Russia investigation.Read more
The Outward Bound school at Anakiwa makes you stare fear in the face and conquer it. Lauren Buckeridge does just that.Read more
The gig economy isn’t yet proving a viable alternative for most people dreaming of being their own boss.Read more
Ruatoria-based Hikurangi Enterprises wants to be front and centre in the medicinal cannabis industry.Read more
Leaders of the National Party come and go, but Mike Hosking endures. Simon Bridges could learn from him.Read more
Wrangling over what to do about the cattle disease Mycoplasma bovis is going down to the wire but whatever the solution, it's expected to cost $1b.Read more
Ireland is holding a referendum later today that could dramatically change its stance on abortion. Here’s a rundown of what's happening and why.Read more