Leask’s writing is rich and generous, sensually evocative and
a wonderful book with beautiful lyricism, a kind of
curl-up-by-the-fire-and-do-not-disturb-me book Margaret
Linley, The Geelong
A great, sweeping story of unravelling pasts and
the end Vladimir chose London for us.’ She smiled, thinking
Leonora became an English child, dreaming of happy endings.’
When her Italian mother
with the builder Tony Tomaselli,
Leonora Stanislavski finds herself at a loose end in Cairns. Known
there as ‘the Englishwoman’ because of her London
upbringing, she meets
Vic Townsend, a tour boat operator fleeing his past. Leonora has been
investigating her own past, in particular, the mysterious death by
drowning of her Russian father in Berlin.
Their pasts seem destined to keep them apart. But when Tomaselli
them on a journey to the far north to deliver an Aboriginal painting to
the derelict cattle station of old Albert Winters, their buried love
surfaces. Then Leonora reveals the horrific things she's done to
uncover her father’s past.
Way of Water
Veronica Sen The Canberra Times,
November 2000, (pg. 55)
A less engagingly
concerns Leonora, reared in England, who is seeking to unravel the
long-hidden secrets behind the death of her Russian father drowned in
Berlin during the Cold War The details of her years of searching are
told to a new lover Vic, a person with a troubling past, when they meet
in Cairns. The attempted fusion of elements of Australian and European
social and political experience is not particularly successful. Then
there is the gratuitous inclusion of an indigenous Australian motif
when Leonora and Vic are commissioned to deliver an Aboriginal painting
to a decidedly eccentric old man on an isolated cattle station. What
happens at mad Albert’s shack is melodramatic to say the
its evidence of aggressive sexism, seen elsewhere in the book, is meant
to explain how males overcome their feelings of grief or inadequacy by
doing violence to women.
Back to top Shorts By
Way of Water
Melissa Hart Australian Book Review,
226, November 2000 (pg. 60)
By Way of Water is an
intriguing and gentle first novel that is not so much driven by plot as
by its characters and their unfolding memories and desires.
Vic is a tour boat operator in Queensland who meets Leonora, a
cosmopolitan and nomadic woman on holiday with her mother. Their
turmoiled pasts prevent them from becoming involved until her
mother’s lover intervenes and insists they both travel to the
remote north to deliver an Aboriginal painting to Albert Winters, a
recluse on a rundown cattle-station.
Essentially a romance story, By
Way of Water
explores the haunted lives of its protagonists as they examine their
pasts before surrendering to the future possibility of love.
Leask’s writing style is consistent, confident and quite
- unlike a first time novelist who often stumbles here and there. His
characters are also multi-layered. They are rich with personal
histories and messy emotional baggage, which is something of a rarity
in recent Australian literature.
The reclusive Albert Winters, who ‘did not mind if they
he was odd, since he was, and knew it himself’, is a curious
character. He is loveless and raging with hatred, cynicism, guilt and
desire, yet he unfortunately sits awkwardly in this gentle story. And
although Leask attempts a tragic climax with the unveiling of the
painting, it reads more like a melodrama.
That said, however, Leask is a promising and gifted new voice in
Australian literature. One that values and dives into the emotional
depths of his characters.
Back to topMargaret
Linley The Geelong Advertiser,
This is a first novel
Australian writer Phil Leask, who now resides
in London but returns home each year.
On one level this is a love story between Leonora and
Cairns. She is a rich London-born woman holidaying with her mother.
He is a tour boat operator living a simple lifestyle.
their love unfolds as the story does.
But on another level this story is so much more than this.
The characters bring a range of interesting cultural
The dying and reformation of Europe after the second world war, the
history of a number of political movements in Europe and the history of
cane-cutting in the far north of Queensland.
Delia Falconer spoke at the book launch and said about
‘They are not travelling inland to a dry place;
travelling to a place where souls are
lost. They are travelling to a place where souls are found. I thought
this was a very clever and original reversal of a lot of the ways that
we see the Australian landscape in literature.’
In order for Leonora and Vic to have a relationship they
first at their own pain. A journey inland throws their soul-searching
into sharp focus.
The characters bravely face their pain and their demons
backdrop of relentless rains and flooding creeks.
Phil Leask’s writing is rich and generous,
Here is Vic thinking about Leonora’s beauty:
‘Leonora had an
beauty that was almost too much to bear, as if the smoothness of her
flesh was threatened by the bones beneath, or by the pressure of time,
like the ancient mountain ranges eroded by millions of years of wind
and rain, whose bare, rocky ridges continued to crumble away into
Here is Leask writing of despair and futility:
‘All they had
touched and turned to dust, and he, Victor, on whom they had pinned so
many of their hopes and dreams, who would achieve through his life all
the things they might have aspired to themselves, was the living
example of the pointlessness of all they had ever embarked
And now, the eternal optimism, the pale flickering light
hope: ‘Limited though his dreams might be, he could not bring
There are many points along the journey of the
lose and hurt and push each other away.
‘Deliberately, painstakingly, she had banished
him from her
every word and every phrase she had pushed him further and further away
from her, leaving him huddled in the corner of the four-wheel drive,
his shoulder pressed against the door, as far away as he could
Leonora realises that her investigations into her own
drowning of her Russian father in Berlin, really serve to divert her
from her own self-knowledge.
Continually, she, Vic and other characters are forced to
important and what is not.
This is a wonderful book with beautiful lyricism, a kind
A great, sweeping story of unravelling pasts and love denied from
Aussie author Phil Leask. Leonora has been dragged up to Cairns by way
of her mother’s second marriage. Not knowing a whole bunch
original old man, she goes about remedying the situation. On a delivery
run to the far north, Leonora grows close to Vic, a man who is plain
and simply on the run from his own past. As trust between the two
deepens, the shocking measures necessary to discover oneself are
With a lot of Australian
literature I feel like I'm watching a
pantomime. People walk across the stage of Australian novels in
historical costume. They perform, they make grand gestures. It's as if
we don’t think or don’t have, histories. The
characters in Australian
novels don’t read things: they don’t have
conversations about art and
The lovely thing about this book is that they do. Here we have a
characters in far North Queensland who bring a huge amount of cultural
baggage with them. They bring the dying and re-formation of Europe
after World War II, the history of various political movements in
Europe, and the history of cane cutting. All these things come together
in the romance between the two main characters, Vic and Leonora, and in
the other characters who all have stories to tell.
The other thing interesting about this novel is that the
travelling inland, but they're not travelling inland to a dry place;
they’re not travelling to a place where souls are lost. They
travelling to a place where souls are found. I thought this was a very
clever and original reversal of a lot of the ways that we see the
Australian landscape in literature.
Phil Leask is just on the money.
He writes very nicely about moods, about emotional nuance. This is
book of many levels of subtlety. As the two main characters discover
each other's stories and each other’s pasts, they begin to
really get a
sense of each other. And behind that there’s always this
of what it means to actually live in this world, what gives life some
sense of meaning. The characters gradually start to move towards a
sense of what it is about life that actually matters, which, again, is
such an antidote to pantomime Australian history.
Phil Leask captures very well the sense of emotional nuance,
emptiness, jadedness, hurt, growing trust and, maybe, tentative love.