An Australian man has recently been diagnosed as having a fatal disease. He decides to take a quixotic trip to Europe, an open-ended adventure to unplanned destinations. This novel takes the form of 20 long and extraordinarily articulate letters written from Venice to an anonymous correspondent in Melbourne.

The letters work on three levels. First, they describe the writer’s travels from Locarno to Vicenza to Padua, stages of his journey prior to arriving in Venice. In fact, the book is divided into groups of letters, each of them dealing with one of the three cities and followed by a set of notes that illuminate some of the writer’s literary and historical allusions.

Second, the letters describe the writer’s current activities in Venice and especially his reflections on human nature and mortality. Finally, he refers back to events that occurred in Melbourne immediately preceding his journey. The most important of these events are the consultations with his doctor and, to a lesser extent, the reaction of Peter, his lover, to the lethal diagnosis.


This is a magical narrative in which a man condemned to death by a lethal disease lives out one of his life fantasies by taking an "aimless" journey. In the course of the journey, he finds himself immersed in stories, not narratives of death and dying, but stories that arise from the age-old human quest for paradise.

As he reflects on his experiences, the writer is transformed. In the next to last letter he writes: "I neither faced the lion nor kept on running--I leapt onto its back, stuck a hat on my head and rode of on it. I rode it." (p. 272) The last letter is very simple, "I’m on my way." (p. 273)



Place Published

Sydney, Australia



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