I was reading a secondhand library-sale copy of Elizabeth Jolley’s 1997 novel Lovesong when it came to me, somewhere around page 90, that this book was reminding me of a movie, something oblique, something impressionistic, a film that didn’t reveal itself but was somehow, underneath it all, full of buried … David Lynch, yes, that was it, David Lynch. Which Lynch? Inland Empire, I thought, and then: no: Blue Velvet.
Lovesong was Jolley’s third-last novel before her death in 2007. “Although she did not publish a novel until she was 57, Elizabeth Jolley, who has died aged 83, quickly established herself as a laureate of the dotty,” reported the Guardian. So she must have been 73 around the publication of Lovesong. The atmosphere of the story is a haze, its gaze is a glance; we see most of it through the brain of Dalton Foster, a man who has recently been released from prison after committing a paedophilic crime. Exactly what he did we do not know, because, as said, we are seeing this through him, and so his paedophilia is presented in the form of oblique romantic scenes: here is a beautiful soprano boy in a beam of light, here is a ragged girl who strangely compels him to follow her. He wants to give her apples. The apples are symbolic, but symbolic of what is a question without easy answers, although the key seems to be Yeats and his “Song of the Wandering Aengus”, which ends with “The silver apples of the moon, / The golden apples of the sun.”
Prison rehabilitation hasn’t reformed him.
During the years of the journey through conflict and repetitions of treatment, he came to the conclusion that the child had observed and sensed the magic and the beauty of desire and attraction, and already understood that there was a special perception of this, which he possessed …
A love of European high culture, used by thinkers like Montaigne to elevate their minds, only fuels his avoidance. Meeting a probation officer he likened him, in silence, to the old poet, Horace, whose shape had, at one time, been compared, by a friend, to that of a thick little book.