My rating: 5 of 5 stars
So many insights in this book. For writers and would-be writers, the journals of Australian George Ernest Morrison as explored by Linda Jaivin are a goldmine. Jaivin grasps the coalescence of story and method to elucidate – and educate – the history and work of George Ernest Morrison.
I found this to be a captivating book which, as it says in the blurb “… is a surprising, witty and erotic tale of sexual and other obsessions set in the ‘floating world’ of Westerners in China and Japan at the turn of the twentieth century”. The history of the Russo-Japanese War (about which I know very little) becomes clear and impact on the subsequent history of China becomes more understandable.
One paragraph that hooked me in quite near the beginning of the book (pages 62-63) is this one where Jaivin analyses Morrison’s writing: “Morrison’s greatest regret was that for all his accomplishments, he was not, he knew, a great writer … But when he thought of poets and writers he admired, he felt humble – but not many things humbled Morrison – for great authors, like Kipling, his favourite, gave moral sense to the world. It was not just facility with language or even rich imagination, he knew, that made an author great, but the way the writer reached for and honoured the truth.” There is the realisation that in his public writing he was incapable of “an unwavering allegiance to the truth. He could not deny to himself that how he understood the world did not always accord with the way he presented it to others”. Why this impressed me is because it reflects my own writerly efforts.
We can look at the characters now and recognise the warmongering psyche, the paternalistic and sexist attitude – but it is not for us to judge in hindsight.