Transports of delight / Booker nomination

PROMISED LANDS by Jane Rogers, Faber pounds 14.99

GOODNESS. Humanity. Sin, the nature of. Evil, ditto. The soul, search for. Life, the meaning of. These are Jane Rogers's themes, and she is not coy about it - are you still with me?

Like a scientist preparing equipment for her experiments, Rogers structures her story to set out a range of human types so that she, and we, can examine them. It is 1788, and the First Fleet lands in Australia: officers, sailors, convicts. Among the officers, Lieutenant William Dawes, astronomer, naive explorer into unknown regions of the world and of the human heart. Also female convicts (guilty, perhaps) and their children (innocent, surely). On the shore, waving their spears and lighting fires in their rough canoes, are the native people; later, there will also be the semi-assimilated aboriginals, who know enough English to communicate their feelings and beliefs. Later still, the freed convicts turned settlers. What kind of world can these assorted specimens create?

At the same time, intercut with the first narrative, it is the present day. Stephen Beech, idealist and teacher, is writing the story of William Dawes and his brave new world. At work, he struggles hopelessly to impose his beliefs on a rowdy and disintegrating school, but the wild pupils are unresponsive to his civilising mission. At home, his marriage to Olla has produced Daniel, a baby so severely handicapped that he cannot move or suck. But Olla, an escapee from violent poverty in middle-Europe, is convinced that Daniel has special strengths that will save the world; she has quickly come to despise Stephen's weak liberalism. What kind of world can these assorted specimens create?

Because Jane Rogers is a writer of great immediacy and power, both these worlds become taut and vivid. The Australian narrative is straightforward, closely plotted, intensely described, with a near-passion for the natural beauty of the place. As the years pass, the new settlement at Sydney Cove grows - roads, a few houses, an observatory, rough huts for the convicts. Crops are planted, and fail. The presence of the women means that food is traded for sex in the most unabashed way; among the half-starved convicts, too, cruelty and kindness, crude brutality and tender protection, are all observed by poor, green William. In this lawless zone, the smallest action, the least transaction, becomes a moral conundrum, but William (like many other characters in the Fleet, he was a real person) is compelling enough for us to read his story as an exceptional sort of sentimental education.

On home territory, the voices of Stephen and Olla are internalised. Unlike the busy sphere of creation and lush nature that is virgin Australia, here is an old and cold country of the heart where a couple no longer speak, where a child is paralysed. Stephen comments on his characters, on Olla, and on his feelings about Daniel; Olla tells no one except the reader of her great secret knowledge about Daniel's powers. They are sad and probably pretty mad, but we care what happens.

What does happen is a bizarre, unhappy reunion of the two worlds, with Stephen facing the emptiness of the Australian desert, beyond the reach of the basest principles of human society. As each of the stories moves to its close - or rather, as their protagonists move out of our range - we realise that Jane Rogers has performed a skittering sleight-of-hand: this writer who is so obsessively interested in morality has answered none of her own questions; shirked nothing, but never resorted to cynicism. If the book has a weakness, it is an artificiality of tone, a certain prescriptiveness, but this is outweighed by its strengths of powerful storytelling, high imagining and unembarrassed depth of feeling.

News
Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Reach for the sky: there are around 250 new buildings of 20-plus storeys planned for London alone, some 80 per cent of them residential
architecture
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
television
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
filmReview: The ingenious film will intrigue, puzzle and trouble audiences by turns
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
News
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
people
News
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Arts and Entertainment
A life-size sculpture by Nick Reynolds depicting singer Pete Doherty on a crucifix hangs in St Marylebone church
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Escalating tension: Tang Wei and Chris Hemsworth in ‘Blackhat’
filmReview: Chris Hemsworth stars as a convicted hacker in Blackhat
Arts and Entertainment

Oscar voter speaks out

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars race for Best Picture will be the battle between Boyhood and Birdman

Oscars
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy), Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance)
tvReview: Wolf Hall
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Meighan of Kasabian collects the Best Album Award
music
Arts and Entertainment
Best supporting stylist: the late L’Wren Scott dressed Nicole Kidman in 1997
film
Arts and Entertainment
Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan as Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Mick Carter (Danny Dyer) and Peggy Mitchell (Barbara Windsor)
tv occurred in the crucial final scene
Arts and Entertainment
Glasgow wanted to demolish its Red Road flats last year
architecture
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower