Below the Styx

Michael Meehan

Below the Styx
Allen & Unwin
1 March 2010

Below the Styx

Michael Meehan

Martin Frobisher has been beating close family members about the head with an epergne. Frobisher, successful publisher and community leader, is in the City Remand Centre, awaiting trial for murder. What shadow has fallen across the comfortable lives of Frobisher, his ambitious wife Coralie and her flaky sister Madeleine? What has led a cultivated and reflective man, known to shoo spiders and earwigs out of the harm’s way, to such reckless acts of violence?

With the prospect of imprisonment for the Term of his Natural Life, can Frobisher and his research assistant Petra find guidance in the life and fortunes of a brilliant young Englishman, marooned in Australia, ‘the land of vulgarity and mob rule’ more than a century earlier, and obsessed with the darker moments in the nation’s history? Why does Frobisher appear to care more, in the end, about the life of Marcus Clarke than he does about his own?


Awaiting trial for clobbering his wife over the head with an epergne, Martin Frobisher is incarcerated in that wild river between Hell and Earth – prison. But this isn’t purgatory. Jail bestows time for scholarship, and for Martin this uncharacteristic violence is an intellectual crime. What follows is a confession of guilt and innocence – a tightrope dance of wieldy sentences that swing between tragedy and farce.

With a nod to Tristram Shandy, it takes the length of the novel to narrate the full blow of the epergne. In between there is a ‘general collapse in the direction of origins’ – stripping history and humanity to the bone – suggesting that his murderous action is but a fatalistic cog written in all things past. To convince us he uses Marcus Clarke: interspersed in the text are passages of his prose. Poignantly the story asks: can this blow be an act of national catharsis? While Meehan is concerned with the nature of colonialism, capitalism, exile and dispossession, this is also about fiction and how a steep romp through human drama can shower each page with the truth of gold dust.

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