Title: Infinite Splendours
Author: Sophie Laguna
Publisher: Allen & Unwin, 2020
Sophie Laguna is a multiple award-winning writer. Her second adult novel, The Eye of the Sheep, won the Miles Franklin Literary Award in 2015.
I read Infinite Splendours with my heart in my mouth. There were times when I wanted to stop reading but the power of Laguna’s storytelling and her stunning craftsmanship kept me in there. The tension in the book is brilliant, as is the descriptive work, particularly the surrounding landscape.
Set in 1953, the story is about Lawrence, ten, and his brother, Paul, who is eight, raised by their mother in Victoria’s Grampians. The boys’ father, known only through a shadowy photograph, died in service during the war.
Lawrence, a sensitive and clever child, is central to the story. His mother dotes on her son’s school achievements and his future looks bright. He has a favourite teacher and on Fridays, art day, he begins to discover his love and enjoyment of art. A long-lost uncle arrives to stay and takes an interest in Lawrence. Fatherless, the boy is hungry for attention and quickly they develop a bond. Paul, the younger brother, is not at all taken with the uncle and avoids him.
Eventually, Lawrence is betrayed in the worst way possible and his carefree childhood days are taken from him. Shattered and lost, he limps into adulthood, develops a stutter and his younger potential is behind him. Lawrence works for a short time on a local dairy farm. His mother dies and he becomes a hermit, living alone in the family home at the foot of the mountain. Paul returns to bring him food and what little support he will accept. Lawrence discovers his artistic passion again and paints prolifically.
A new family moves in next door with children. The ten-year-old boy quickly becomes a focus for Lawrence as he lives out his own regressed development and faces a situation that could lead to him repeating the wrongs done to him in the past.
This novel raises questions of psychological and societal importance – the acts of childhood betrayals and the potential or actual impact on the lives of victims. The pace is slow and leaves the reader nowhere to hide, but it’s a brave and courageous write by Laguna, into a darkness that most of us don’t want to know about, although we do.
Infinite Splendours is a harrowing but compelling read. A story I’ll never forget.
Reviewed by: Heather Whitford Roche, November 2020
Ballarat Writers Inc. Book Review Group