Black Oxen, by Elizabeth Knox

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The Independent Culture

Elizabeth Knox's new novel opens with an autistic boy trawling the river banks of a sleepy rural backwater. Like the boy, Knox views the world differently from most of us. Her words have the power to dazzle, but often the reader is left wondering what on earth this talented writer is getting at.

A New Zealander by birth, Elizabeth Knox is best known in this country for her novel The Vintner's Luck, a supernatural tale set in 19th-century Burgundy featuring an angel and a grape-grower. This, her sixth novel, is no less fantastical. It's 2022, and Carme Risk is about to embark on a course of "narrative therapy". Hoping to unravel the mystery of her missing father, she ransacks her memories and her father's journal for clues, a journey that takes her from the "Eden" of early childhood, to Lequama in South America, where she and her dad joined a band of revolutionaries. The novel concludes in a parking lot in Northern California.

In the face of such a complex plot and even more frenetic cast list (generals, ballet-dancers, billionaires, wizards...) Knox's narrative voice never falters. Depending on your personal threshold for the surreal, you'll either find her story baffling, or the best thing since Gabriel García Márquez.

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