Crouchbackian Undercurrents Seen in Australian Novel

A recent Australian novel tells the story of a soldier who suffered through the British evacuation of Crete. This is Archipelago of Souls by Gregory Day. It is reviewed by a  writer identified only by his/her initials (“AF”) in The Saturday Paper, a newly-established print newspaper published weekly throughout Australia. The Australian soldier, Wesley Cress, is compared to Guy Crouchback in that both are seriously disillusioned by what they see has happened in Crete:

Just as the hero of Waugh’s trilogy retreats from the world he despairs of after the conflict’s end, so too does Wesley Cress consciously withdraw. But this is where the two authors part company. Waugh’s creation Guy Crouchback, aristocratic scion of an old Catholic recusant family, heads for a castle in Italy; Day’s invention, Wes Cress, a farmer’s son from Colac in Victoria, heads for King Island in Bass Strait: an island off an island.

I’m not sure where the reviewer gets the idea that Guy returns to a castle in Italy after the war. At the time of the the Cretan debacle, that option would hardly be one that Guy contemplated, as Italy was still in the war. In the end, he settles at Broome, not Italy, and in 1950-51 sells the castle to Ludovic.  He may have made visits to the castle in the years before Ludovic’s purchase, but no such visits are mentioned in Waugh’s epilogue to the trilogy.

Where the authors part company is in how they describe the events in Crete.  The Cretan experiences of Wesley Cress are quite different from Guy’s in that Cress missed the evacuation and remains trapped behind the lines in Crete. He is haunted by his experiences as he tries to re-establish himself after the war and strives to come to terms with them by writing them down and sending them to a local girl with whom he has fallen in love. Guy’s experiences, on the other hand, are not told in flashbacks but form the present narrative of the novel.  He broods generally over the poor performance of the British forces and specifically over the Ivor Claire episode but cannot be said to have been unhinged by them, as seems to have been the case (or nearly so) with the depressive Australian.

Thanks to R.M. Davis for drawing our attention to this article.

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