When you’re already lost after the first paragraph you know you’re in trouble. Rich prose is one thing, but making us jump through so many hoops of grammatical flourish we have to scan the first paragraph three times sums up the whole problem with Jones’ exhausting missive.
Helen Garner and the Meaning of Everything is too in love with its own witty voice and creative pretensions, leaving us to sift through layers of pompous descriptors to see if there’s a story underneath. While unearthing subtexts from literature is a pleasure, searching for narrative buried beneath surface text is laborious.
As countless airport thrillers prove, a riveting storyline can overcome bad writing. As in this case, the opposite is seldom true; Jones’s playful, languid writing can’t overcome a plot that, at its most exciting, involves a retired professor searching for a hidden thread about rabbits throughout the works of Helen Garner.
With characters shoehorned in on such throwaway tangents it seems even Jones himself is bored, Helen Garner and the Meaning of Everything is ironically empty, all whimsical prose and no substance to support it.