When a book is given to me with such a title, at such a perfect time I hunker right down that very moment to read it. Not only do I believe books are the perfect escape, but escape, and more precisely a means to it is exactly what I have needed.
This is not an instruction manual, neither is it an adventure tale, but a set of often tragically hollow and compelling stories that leave one more alone and more content than any I have read in a long time. I do not think that any of the stories give the escape the characters want, and many end up giving more to think about the readers situation and how they are settled more than anything. Have you stagnated? Are you possessed of an exploring heart but meagre pockets, or debilitating fear? It may not be time for change, but perhaps it is always time to know where you sit in your own life.
We have the titular story set in 19 century Australia. It could so easily have been a preachers cautionary tale about the wiles of men, instead the preachers daughter originally taken up with an escaped convict, is the one left in her own lonely place we instead of with her, he takes up with am ex-convict spinster woman they employ to do the washing. The lesson- if there is one- is not ‘don’t be caught in the clutches of evil men’ but rather, ‘even a scorned woman has her charms and can be notably superior to a virtuous maiden in some respects’ or at least ‘in the words of Sondheim ‘if you know what you want, then you go and you find it and you get it’.
We also have a painter who wants to capture truth, but has problems both with his subject and his teacher; a child who can’t decide between his possessions, his curiosity and getting money from either; a man who comes for dinner in the middle of a woman’s labour and is unhappy to note that she won’t be cooking; and a man who has lived his live for a company who then lays him off. No one quite fits everyone is incomplete and many of the stories end mid sentence if not mid-breath.
I left my little retreat thinking: If someone looked through a window into my life, would it be one of these stories where the sidelines character steals the show from the main focus? Yes, we are all protagonists, but who drives you plot forward?