Truly talented artists seem impenetrable: how can a person produce something transcendent, beyond and yet encapsulating human experience? Many artists seem more than human, the idiosyncrasies and oddities that allow them to complete their work characterising them as “eccentric.” The subject of Harland’s Half Acre, Frank Harland is such an artist, an impossibly talented painter who we follow from his childhood in country Queensland through to later acclaim.
The novel manages to portray Frank’s talent, eccentricity and essential humanity across an engaging, sweeping narrative. Its appeal lies in Malouf’s ability to write in a way that captures the rhythm and resonance of memories. His focus is not on the details or dialogue, but feelings: the essence of a run-down, humid Brisbane hovel, or what defines a person beyond their personality or appearance.
Reading Harland’s Half Acre, it’s easy to close your eyes and hear the aged voice of Harland sharing his experiences around a campfire with the earthy scent of burning wood heavy in the air, his voice cracking as he recalls a difficult memory, or speeding up as a meaningful moment from his youth comes to mind. And like a fireside conversation, it leaves you with a satisfied glow.