Alan Gould. The Tazyrik Year. Sceptre, 1998. ISBN: 0733608361.
Viv and Kit, brother and sister, drift through their ‘real’ lives in their family home and their Foreign Affairs jobs after their parents—Pa and the Boss—have passed away. They invite the orphaned, ‘unprovenanced’ Jules into their garden flat and their home, and slowly reveal to him their world of Tazyrik and their essential selves. In Tazyrik, Kit and Viv can mend all hurts, make sense of all problems, overcome, or at least escape, all unpleasantness.
In this blog I’m focusing on Canberra as a setting for fiction. As I said in my introductory post, I’m interested in how authors portray Canberra, what messages they may be seeking to convey, and what images they paint, which add to the public perception of this town.
Sometimes the location of a story is not very important. Sometimes having a real, authentic and identifiable location in which the characters must move is unhelpful, or distracting, or limiting. Sometimes authors need, or want, to create a new world for their characters to inhabit, unrestrained by plausible depictions of known places. Locations might be hinted at, without needing to be specified.
The Tazyrik Year is, I think, a story that could inhabit any place. No particular place at all. It could have been a fictional town, or a fictionalised one, in Canowindra or Cottesloe or Campbelltown. A dreamed place, like the one Kit describes in one of his letters to Viv:
There I was in my dream, getting off a train at a country station, then following a laneway bordered by trees through which long slabs of late afternoon sunlight fell. This was not Australia, nor Harlstead. It was not anywhere particular at all. Like the garden in my reverie on the aeroplane, it was a place that didn’t need to refer to anywhere else.
The Tazyrik Year, though, needs to be grounded in a real place because Tazyrik is an other-world. By juxtaposing it with an authentic, concrete setting, author Alan Gould emphasises the unworldliness of Tazyrik. The fact that The Tazyrik Year is set in Canberra may be largely incidental. Chosen only, perhaps, because Gould lives here. Write what you know, as they say.
But there are hints that Gould is doing more than just writing what he knows when he references Canberra. Jules has come to work at the Australian National University looking for a fresh start. He thinks of Canberra as “newly minted”, a place which had “materialised on patches on ground that had not yet lost their identity as sheep paddocks”. This newness is in contrast to the ancient world the Kesteven siblings seek to keep alive within Tazyrik.
Canberra is the grounded reality underpinning the flights of fantasy within Tazyrik. It is also a city that is both real and imagined. Those who use the word ‘Canberra’ to mean both the city and the actions of the federal government within it often accuse that amorphous Canberra of not knowing what the rest of the country thinks. I agree that it is hard to have a sense in Canberra of what the mood of the whole country is. Because we remain a company town, we understand politics in a way that the rest of Australia may not, and it matters to many of us more, or perhaps just differently. To gauge public opinion in Canberra is to have no real insight into public opinion elsewhere. I suspect you will find the same phenomenon, for different reasons, in Darwin and Perth. Those opinions are no less real or valid or deeply held for that.
There is no addition to the Caphs count here. Jules lives and works northside, and by Canberra tradition and mythology would only venture southside to Manuka in moments of extreme necessity. The house is, I’m guessing, in O’Connor—walking distance from both the ANU and the Canberra Stadium. Black Mountain, Mount Ainslie and Mount Majura loom nearby, and Jules and Viv are able to sit outside the garden flat at night where the “sky was clear and starry, and the starry city below us was it its quietest”.
Jules ponders his new life in “rarefied, oddly superimposed Canberra.” A city superimposed on a landscape. A community that continues to operate under an overlay of a national capital.
In this pristine light Canberra seemed as if it were breaking free everywhere from the canopy of its suburban trees, these offices like space-age menhirs, hard-edged, streamlined, their surfaces of fawn stucco and smoked glass seamless and impenetrable. Beneath the foliage, of course, the suburbs, remained largely closed, but this further view that I enjoyed from my garden flat contributed to my sense of wellbeing.
The Kestevens, like Canberra, have two lives, one out in the world of government, and one at home on the Tazyrik rug.
One of them was a charade—a shrewd, brilliantly sustained charade. As I saw them drive off to work, I thought it was a toss-up as to which one it was.