Navigatioby Patrick Holland Published 01 Nov 2014
|Publisher||Transit Lounge Australia|
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Navigatio tells the story of Saint Brendan of Clonfert, a sixth century monk and adventurer, and his legendary quest for the Isle of the Blessed via a gauntlet of monsters, devils, angels, prophets and beautiful maidens. Brendan's battles with the sea and the cosmos bear out what William Faulkner once called ‘the human heart in conflict with itself’. This haunting parable of darkness and light, of temptation and belief, of voice and silence, is told with the utmost economy of words, making it a small masterpiece of compassionate perception
I'm tired of advocating for this bloke. He's Australia's greatest living writer. And this is his best book since The Mary Smokes Boys. Consider, you're dealing with the man who can write this:
"In the heart of the black woods Brendan cried out.
And the white witch came. This time in the shape of a crone draped in grey rags, white-haired and white-eyed and three feet taller than the tip of Brendan's spear.
You brewed storms that forced us here, Cailleach.
To what end?
To the end at which all my deeds aim. You have met me before Brendan of Clonfert. I run counter to every created thing. I am the frost that kills the summer grass. The voice in the ear of the betrayer. The rust in the sword’s iron. I am that contrary force without which no good would ever be done. I am necessary. I am what your poets imagine heaven without. But you know my snows are what make the summer. That my dark is all that gives the flickering candle beauty. That without my chill there is nothing to call warmth. I am the lope of the bear stalking its victim in the dawn. I am the narrowing eyes of the wolves at dusk. I am the squall that rips the sails. Therefore I will have blood!
Aye, said the boatwright who stood behind Brendan with spear raised. So ye shall, Queen!
And just as he would drive the spear home into Brendan’s heart the boatwright fell dead on the snow.
Suibhne put his foot on the man’s back and pulled out his own spear.
Aye, necessary, he said. But they who serve her rather than fight her are doomed.
Then to Cailleach, who could not be killed.
There is your blood, witch."
This is an extraordinary mediation on the voyage of St Brendan, that ultimately asks, is the thing we seek in life, a thing we have lost, even in the seeking?
A book that will last as long as there is a language to convey it and readers to hear.
The grammar made it quite hard to read and I still have absolutely no idea what happened. I do like the use of different mediums though.
What an extraordinary book. More a meditation than a novel, and even less like the rest of Australian literature than his previous books. It is supposed to be 'ambient', immersive. It certainly is that. It reminds me most of the Thatgamecompany video game 'Journey'. It's similarly minimalistic, makes similar use of silence, and is similarly beautiful in treating the idea of journey, home and transience. On Asian minimalism, 'Navigatio' also makes me think of those medieval Japanese meditations by Sei Shonagon and Sarashina. Holland is the most Asian of Australian writers, yet, in addition, even while invoking the spirit of European medievalism here (there's a touch of Calvino and Milorad Pavic about it, and that can be no bad thing!). What a strange and wonderful nexus point of traditions this book is. The best he's written since The Mary Smokes Boys. Can there be any other living Australian author so firmly possessed by genius? Also, the illustrations are exquisite.
Reading this book feels like trying to make sense of a recurring dream as every detail but the theme slips away from you.
Our protagonist sets out with his crew to find a distant land, but does not know where it is, how to get there, or what it is like at all.
Their journey is presented in the form of tattered, fragmented impressions of places, people, and conversations. Several encounters (or encounters close enough to them) occur multiple times, and on one occasion Brendan himself is aware of a sense of having done it all before. His story fades in and out like the delirious workings of a fevered brain about to die, which is possibly the point.
In any other book, the lack of any identifiable character development, the constantly changing details and scenes, and even chapters with only titles to convey meaning to the larger narrative would fail miserably.
I really enjoyed this book, probably because of the unconventional narrative, which surprised me.
So beautiful! He is a master!
This is beautifully written with gorgeous illustrations, and I wanted to enjoy it a lot more than I did. The story is a bit opaque and lyrically symbolic, and I don't think I was quite in the mood for it. Maybe because I read it late at night before bed and tended to fall asleep. I hope others enjoy it though.