Ned Manning is a writer, actor, and teacher, and "committed advocate for anyone interested in the real world of teaching". He has written over 20 plays, and notes the success of his first play, Us or Them, "led to the Griffin Theatre Company's transformation from a co-op to a professional company".
Painting the Light is his first novel, loosely based - so an author's note tells us - on the lives of his parents.
I have no knowledge of Manning's plays, but sadly, there is little doubt that his fiction narrative debut would have benefited from editorial help. Which is a shame, since the bones of the story are sound: WWII heroism, political and artistic ambitions, and loyalty and love in the face of prejudice and resilience.
However, much of the plot line is noticeably contrived, with hackneyed phrases risking risible status, such as a young woman's heart beating "at a million miles an hour" after a kiss, or doubtfully misplaced, such as an early 1940s quip about something being "the best thing since sliced bread" when sliced bread didn't appear in Australia until the 1950s.
Alec Murray comes from an established rural family, who expected him to become a lawyer, but Alec has other plans. He is tall and handsome (of course) with "piercing blue eyes" and set on building a farm of his own with war waiting in the wings.
Alec has a social conscience, enlivened by an enquiring mind, and leans towards progressive ideas that disturb his parents, particularly his father, a local conservative stalwart.
Meanwhile, in Paris, Nell Hope, a talented (and beautiful) young woman from a wealthy grazing family, discovers her art studies cannot survive the approaching chaos, and prepares reluctantly to return home.
The plot slips smoothly into gear as Alec and Nell fall (heavily) in love, soon finding that they share similar hopes and dreams for a better world.
Alec has received help with the farm from Bernie, a local Indigenous man, and as war beckons Alec (of course) answers the call, leaving farm management to Bernie and his young family. Which might be seen - for the time - as a rare example of tolerance and trust.
Alec is promoted to army captain, fights with distinction in Palestine and elsewhere, marries Nell and starts a family. The war ends, Alec takes up politics, leaning further to the left, with Nell's assistance, and much dismay from both families. He does well (of course) endorsing Chifley's hopes for a post-war Australian recovery.
It's a light, and too casually configured, Aussie yarn. Suitable, perhaps, for a lazy Sunday afternoon.
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