What I Am Reading: The Cautious Amorist

Several months ago I was traveling and in a hotel where we needed to kill some time, so we turned on The Aniques Roadshow on PBS. It’s a fun show, but not one I watch often. One of the things someone brought into that episode and they discussed was a very unusual picture by an Australian artist named Norman Lindsay. I had never heard of him, but the picture was so unusual that I started researching him and his art. It turns out that not only was he a fascinating artist, but he was a writer as well – of both adult and children’s books!

The first book I acquired that Lindsay wrote was The Cautious Amorist, an adult novel. I have since gotten some of his children’s stories in a compilation of stories by Australian writers, but I haven’t read those yet. The Cautious Amorist is a novel with ample illustrations, but it’s definitely not a book for children. I imagine most kids would find it deadly dull, actually.

The book starts with the passengers and crew of an ocean liner needing to be evacuated into life boats in the middle of the night to save their lives. Everyone escapes, apparently unscathed. Unfortunately, one boat drifts too far from the others to be rescued (the oars fall into the ocean) and the four people aboard are assumed lost by the rest. They do not drown, however, and in fact wash up on a deserted island.

The four people are a flighty, but beautiful, young woman; a sailor with a rough and checkered past; a minister; and an academic gentleman. They are, as you may imagine, not terribly well suited to surviving on a deserted island. Still, they manage to catch crabs and find fruit and create sort of lean-to shelters. The young woman is more or less useless, but the men don’t seem to mind.

It’s clear at this point that the three men are all fascinated with the woman in various ways, but so far there are no hints of romance among the group. Truthfully, I find her amazingly annoying and useless, so I rather hope no romance with her develops. But I fully expect to have that hope disappointed. All descriptions of the book describe it as exploring morals and modesty given such a setting, but I’m not sure Sadie (the woman) has much modesty to begin with nor any of them (maybe the minister?) much in the way of morals.

The illustrations are beautiful and interesting. They have a sketchy quality that hints at detail more than actually supplies any. More often than not, there’s barely the hint of location or background. The figures are always front and center and I love how evocative Lindsay’s art is of body language and movement. We may not exactly be able to tell what everyone looks quite like or what they are wearing, but their poses are full of weight and emotion. It’s fascinating. So far, I am more impressed with Lindsay’s illustrations than his prose!

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