In the Garden of the Fugitives

Ceridwen Dovey

In the Garden of the Fugitives
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In the Garden of the Fugitives

Ceridwen Dovey

Almost twenty years after forbidding him to contact her, Vita receives an email from her old benefactor, Royce. Once, she was one of his brightest protégés; now her career has stalled and Royce is ailing, and each has a need to settle accounts.

Beyond their murky shared history, both have lost beloveds, one to an untimely death, another to a strange disappearance. And both are trying to free themselves from deeper pasts, Vita from the inheritance of her birthplace, Royce from the grip of the ancient city of Pompeii and the secrets of the Garden of the Fugitives. Between what’s been repressed and what has been excavated are disturbances that reach back through decades, even centuries.

Addictive and unsettling, In the Garden of the Fugitives is a masterpiece of duplicity and counterplay, as brilliantly illuminating as it is surprising - about the obscure workings of guilt in the human psyche, the compulsion to create, and the dangerous morphing of desire into control. It is the breakthrough work of one of Australia’s most exciting emerging writers.

‘A spellbinding pas de deux of passion and obsession. Mesmerising and mind-expanding. I was transfixed.’ Anna Funder


Ceridwen Dovey won the inaugural Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction in 2014 with her book of short stories, Only the Animals, an audacious and original work of imagination. Dovey’s new novel confirms she is one of the most exciting writers working in Australia today.

Beginning as a curious revival of correspondence between Royce, an aging philanthropist, and Vita, a filmmaker half his age who has been a beneficiary of his wealth, this two-handed narrative is quite unlike anything I’ve read in recent times.

What does Royce want with Vita, who so clearly demanded no further contact from him? Why is Vita writing back? And who is Kitty? Their compelling back-and-forth builds to become a riveting series of meditations that traverse topics as diverse as belonging in post-Apartheid South Africa, the excavation of life in ancient Pompeii, the ethics of ethnographic filmmaking, the dark obsessions of unrequited desire, the power that money can buy, and the neuroses that it cannot hide. It’s an expansive and exploratory novel that I found genuinely intellectually stimulating (an overused phrase, but I can’t think of anything else so apt).

There is a moment in the book when Vita explains that the word ‘ambitious’ is the greatest insult that can be levelled at a work of art because it suggests the transparency of the artist’s vision, and the failure of the work to meet it. Yet without ambition, art languishes; it repeats the same tropes; its subjects become tired, its audiences weary. But this book – this book is ambitious, though not in the sense that Vita describes; rather, it offers the exhilaration of reading something genuinely bold and original. Its ambitions succeed because of the work of a fearless writer who wants to say something new to a reader she demands be involved in the discourse. In the Garden of the Fugitives is a remarkable book and its author is a star.

Alison Huber is the head book buyer at Readings.

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