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The Acolyte

by Thea Astley

Paul Vesper is fifteen and impressionable when he first meets Jack Holberg, a blind pianist and sort of folk figure in the town of Grogbusters, a man totally different from Vesper’s “rotarian dad.”

Though Vesper eventually leaves town, goes off to college, and works as an engineer, he finds himself drawn back home when Holberg returns home from studying composition at a European conservatory. Eventually Vesper becomes part of Holberg’s milieu, a transcriber of Holberg’s compositions, confidante of his wife and sister-in-law, friend and admirer of Holberg’s iconoclastic, elderly aunt, and a member of the “hideous Greek chorus of yes-men who can’t do a thing ourselves.”

The relationship between Holberg and Vesper and the parallel relationships between Vesper and the other members of Holberg’s “family” are fascinating for their psychological insights, and Astley develops them with sophistication and elegance. The debilitating effect of Holberg on those surrounding him is obvious, but just as obviously, most of those involved with him are unable, for a variety of reasons, to break clear of him. They are, as Vesper says, “like the slaves who built tombs for the pharaohs,” until, of course, the tension builds to a life-changing climax for all.

About Thea Astley

Thea Astley was one of Australia's most respected and acclaimed novelists. Born in Brisbane in 1925, Astley studied arts at the University of Queensland. She held a position as Fellow in Australian Literature at Macquarie University until 1980, when she retired to write full time. In 1989 she was granted an honorary doctorate of letters from the University of Queensland. She won the Miles Franklin Award four times - in 1962 for The Well Dressed Explorer, in 1965 for The Slow Natives, in 1972 for The Acolyte and in 2000 for Drylands. In 1989 she was award the Patrick White Award. Other awards include 1975 The Age Book of the Year Award for A Kindness Cup, the 1980 James Cook Foundation of Australian Literature Studies Award for Hunting the Wild Pineapple, the 1986 ALS Gold Medal for Beachmasters, the 1988 Steele Rudd Award for It's Raining in Mango, the 1990 NSW Premier's Prize for Reaching Tin River, and the 1996 Age Book of the Year Award and the FAW Australian Unity Award for The Multiple Effects of Rainshadow. 'Beyond all the satire, the wit, the occasional cruelty, and the constant compassion, the unfailing attribute of Astley's work is panache' Australian Book Review  


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