Reading the 'Gold Coast Symphony' in Thea Astley's The Acolyte

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Thea Astley is a figure strongly associated with music, both in her biography and in her writing rhythms and allusions; this paper investigates the uses of music in her 1972 novel, The Acolyte. Centring on the blind pianist turned composer, Jack Holberg, this novel proposes that the Gold Coast landscape actually shapes the form of Holberg’s music, as his compositions give expression to the lives lived in that landscape. The novel has received little critical attention as it less easily fits Astley’s oeuvre, however this article suggests that it is in fact consistent with her usual preoccupations. The novel’s critique of male genius through the triangulation of desire, music and place savagely critiques conservative 1960s south-east Queensland culture as much as it belies affection for its fecund subtropical growth, torpid humidity, and creative misfits. More importantly however, the article establishes this Queensland landscape as generative and musical in terms which might be considered nationalistic, and which fictionally distinguish Australian music from its inherited European tradition. The turning point of the novel is a performance of Holberg’s Gold Coast Symphony, which imaginatively writes this coastal fringe of urban debauchery into the vernacular of classical music.
Original languageEnglish
Article number5
Pages (from-to)232-244
Number of pages13
JournalQueensland Review
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2019


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