Andrew McGahan’s 11th and final book, The Rich Man’s House, published posthumously, is a ‘haunted-house’ novel. The origins of the book are the author’s fascinations with the architecture of mansions, and with the ordeal of mountain climbing and the traits of many climbers.
The novel is an imagined alternative reality centred around an imaginary mountain rising from the Southern Ocean between Antarctica and Australia. The mountain, known as the Wheel, rises almost twenty-five kilometres above sea level, stretching far up into the stratosphere. Only one mountaineer has reached the summit, the multi-billionaire adventurer Walter Richman in 1974. Fictionalised accounts are given throughout the book of various climbing expeditions and explorers’ encounters with the Wheel.
Fifty years later, Richman has purchased nearby Theodolite Island and built his mansion into the rock called the Observatory, designed by architect Richard Gausse. After Gausse’s sudden death, his daughter Rita is invited to the Observatory to honour his final work.
The novel is told primarily from the perspective of Rita, the ‘witness character’. She previously held beliefs about ‘presences’ in the environment, the inorganic awarenesses of the landscape destroyed by the organic that is humans. She gradually learns of Richman’s true character as the supernatural force of the Wheel unleashes its wrath upon Richman and others trapped in the Observatory after an earthquake and tsunami.
McGahan tells the story in several styles. It switches from events in the Observatory to geological accounts of the Wheel, extracts from magazine and newspaper articles, accounts of dramatic attempts to climb the mountain.
There was a mixed response to this book and lively discussion.
A number of readers didn’t finish the book, finding it too long, had poor development of characters, disliked the fictionalisation of facts, and contained too much fantasy. Others ‘couldn’t put it down’, finding it both ‘compelling and ridiculous’, suspenseful, graphic and a ‘slow build’. Most agreed that it was well researched and contained convincing historical (fictionalised) narrative and detailed architectural descriptions although the writing could have been ‘tighter and crisper’. For some the novel contains an environmental message that is to respect it, and is a ‘morality play’ about wealth, possession and power.
Ratings: Claudia 2, Janet 3.5, Jen 4, Lynda 2, Margie 2, Nicola 3.5, Sandi 3 and Pauline 3
Our February meeting will be 10/02/20 at 6:30PM at Preece House, 50 Nerang St Bischof Pioneer Park, Nerang (next to 54 Nerang St. shops) to discuss Grace by Paul Lynch.
Hope to see you all there and happy reading!
We are a group that gets together once a month to discuss good books. Each of us gets to choose a book on a rotational basis, preferably one outside our personal comfort zone – we try to keep the trash to ourselves. After the discussion, we comment on other books we read that month. Most of the time we remain friends after the meeting.
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