Date of Award

2010

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts Honours

Faculty

Faculty of Education & Arts

First Advisor

Dr Ffion Murphy

Abstract

The last magician (1992) by Janette Turner Hospital tells the story of Lucy, the novel's narrator, who is trying to piece together the mystery disappearance and possible murder of three people. Gabriel, Lucy's boyfriend, and Charlie Chang, a photographer, have gone missing while searching for Cat, Charlie's childhood friend. The story shifts between present time Sydney and a tragedy that took place a generation earlier in rural Queensland, involving the death of Cat's younger brother, Willy. The novel draws on conventions of the mystery genre, so that readers desire to know what has happened to several missing characters, even as the self-conscious narrator directs attention to another mystery involving her quest to compose her narrative. This thesis explores how the narrator illustrates and attempts to overcome the gap between her lived experience, with all its uncertainties and ambiguities, and its artistic or literary depiction. I argue that the narrator uses a complex, multi-layered narrative structure to destabilise meaning as well as to suggest an order that is not immediately perceptible. My approach involves establishing the relationship between narrative form and meaning. I refer to studies of metafiction, to critical discourse on Turner Hospital, and to narrative theories in order to explore themes that emerge through the analysis of form. In particular, this study identifies a parallel, silent world that symbolises both an unheard, marginalised class of people and a space beyond language and articulation. Both worlds are depicted in Charlie's photographs, examined here as hypodiegetic narratives that test the limitations of the literary, first-level narrative, and elaborate on the theme of artistic expression. Although my aim is mainly to examine Turner Hospital's approach to telling her story, I also consider accusations made against the novel's moral stance. Some critics find that the novel's postmodem tendency to leave many questions unresolved results in its upholding existing and oppressive power structures. I conclude that the narrator's quest to communicate the unspeakable, and her attempt to wrestle with storytelling conventions can also be interpreted as acts of emancipation; they challenge narrative and generic traditions and controlling systems of power.

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