d'Alpuget, Blanche 1944-
d'ALPUGET, Blanche 1944-
PERSONAL: Surname is pronounced "Dal-pu-jay"; born January 3, 1944, in Sydney, Australia; daughter of Louis Albert (a journalist) and Josephine (Curgenven) d'Alpuget; married Anthony Ian Camden Pratt (a civil servant), November 22, 1965 (marriage ended); married R. J. Hawke (former Australian prime minister), July 23, 1995; children: (first marriage) Louis. Ethnicity: "Anglo-Celt." Education: Attended a Church of England girls' grammar school in Sydney, Australia. Politics: Labor.
CAREER: Journalist in Sydney, Australia, London, England, Paris, France, Djakarta, Indonesia, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and Canberra, Australia, between 1962 and 1974; writer. Women's Electoral Lobby, past member.
MEMBER: Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, International PEN (Sydney Centre), Australian Labor Party, Oral History Association of Australia (president of Australian Capital Territory branch, 1980-81), Australian Society of Authors.
AWARDS, HONORS: Novel of the Year Award, Age newspaper, 1981, Golden Jubilee Award, Sydney Centre, International PEN, 1981, and Biennial Award for Literature, South Australian Government, 1982, all for Turtle Beach; Braille Book of the Year award, 1982, for Turtle Beach, and 1983, for Robert J. Hawke: A Biography; New South Wales Premier's Award, 1983, for Robert J. Hawke: A Biography; Commonwealth Award for Literature, Australasian Division, 1987, for Winter in Jerusalem.
Monkeys in the Dark, J. Cape (London, England), 1980.
Turtle Beach, Penguin (London, England), 1981, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1983.
Winter in Jerusalem, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1986.
White Eye, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1994.
Mediator: A Biography of Sir Richard Kirby, Melbourne University Press (Melbourne, Australia), 1977.
Robert J. Hawke: A Biography, Landsdowne Press (East Melbourne, Australia), 1982.
Work represented in anthologies, including Eleven Sins, Random House (Melbourne, Australia), 1993.
SIDELIGHTS: In the novel Turtle Beach Blanche d'Alpuget introduces Judith Wilkes, an Australian journalist assigned to cover the arrival of boatloads of Vietnamese refugees into Malaysia in 1979. The world the press woman encounters in post-colonial Kuala Lumpur is a strange mingling of East and West, full of disturbing juxtapositions and ironies: the people she meets in this chaotic environment are a curious mix as well. As Wilkes reports on the tragic plight of the boat people in a country that does not want them and incarcerates them in cruel camps, she also observes the intricate lives of those she has met and engages in her own journey of self-discovery. Gene Lyons, writing in Newsweek, described Turtle Beach as "the sort of novel one encounters at very rare intervals: broad in scope, ambitious almost to a fault, yet written with a crisp, breezy intelligence that enlivens the story without concealing for a moment its grave implications. . . . Turtle Beach makes us witness to history in the raw—the human tidal wave of Southeast Asia," he added, "without peddling phony guilt or easy answers."
Other critics also noted the gripping plot of Turtle Beach, its well-drawn characters, and the skillfulness of d'Alpuget's writing. Toronto Globe and Mail reviewer Anne Montagnes remarked that "Blanche d'Alpuget writes in a simple, gripping style. Pages flip over as the reader plunges into the concerns of her characters." Suzanne Freeman voiced a similar observation in a Washington Post critique, noting that d'Alpuget "is a strong writer with a particularly sharp sense of character. In a few deft behind-the-scene scenes, we get a good look right into the souls of the people in this book." The critic added that "the sheer force of her story is enough to sweep us along to the end. And it's well worth the trip. The final scenes on Turtle Beach are powerful and haunting." And Joe Klein, writing in the New York Times Book Review, reflected: "Mrs. d'Alpuget seems able to enter effortlessly the heads of her characters, both Western and Eastern. . . . Her observations are made all the more powerful by a graceful style of writing that is, at once, lucid and coy. . . . This is an auspicious American debut for Blanche d'Alpuget, and it raises two immediate questions: What else has she written, and when do we get to see it?"
D'Alpuget's fourth novel, White Eye, received less enthusiastic reviews. Although written as a thriller, according to New York Times Book Review critic Nina Sonenberg, the story is "disappointing" and "packs little suspense." Laurie Clancy described the novel in Contemporary Novelists: "Although written in a deliberately plain and simple style the novel has an extraordinarily intricate plot, involving illegal trafficking in chimpanzees between Thailand and Australia, genetic engineering, and an attempt to destroy the world. . . . The protagonist, Diana Pembridge, is a quintessential d'Alpuget heroine, thirty-two years old, beautiful and patrician in appearance, but vulnerable and unfulfilled in reality. She is a passionate lover of nature without being a fanatic. . . . Against her is pitted John Parker, a deeply misogynistic man whose disgust with a proliferating human race drives him to invent a vaccine that will prevent it breeding." Both Sonenberg and Clancy reported that, in the words of Clancy, "some of the finest writing in the novel is devoted to accounts of [Diana] falconing and her struggle to heal and release a wounded wedgetail eagle."
A Publishers Weekly review of White Eye faulted d'Alpuget for "striv[ing] so hard to press her fine style and character insights into the thriller genre" and further noted: "More problematic is the way characters drop in and out of the plot without developing cogent relationships." Clancy's summary of the novel also recognized weaknesses in character relations: "Like all of d'Alpuget's work, White Eye is a carefully and thoroughly researched novel that at times indeed wears its learning a little ostentatiously. It alternates scenes of lyrical evocation of landscape and the beauty of the colony of birds that Diana looks after with descriptions of violence and cruelty. Like Winter in Jerusalem it suffers from a rushed ending in which Diana and a charismatic photographer cum environmentalist meet and fall in love in what seems seconds. D'Alpuget has admitted that she has difficulty in writing scenes of sexual love and this is evident here. . . . However, d'Alpuget does save a couple of ingenious twists in the plot till right near the end."
D'Alpuget once told CA: "The Muses were the daughters of Jupiter and Memory. Memory, I think, exists within imagination as the grain in timber. Uncovering it—and memory for me remains utterly mysterious—is a delight."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Contemporary Novelists, 6th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1996.
Globe and Mail, (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), December 3, 1983, Anne Montagnes, review of Turtle Beach.
Los Angeles Times, February 3, 1984.
Newsweek, November 14, 1983, Gene Lyons, review of Turtle Beach.
New York Times Book Review, October 23, 1983, Joe Klein, review of Turtle Beach; August 14, 1994, Nina Sonenberg, review of White Eye.
Publishers Weekly, June 6, 1994, review of White Eye.
Washington Post, September 20, 1983, Suzanne Freeman, review of Turtle Beach.