Sunday Times (London)
Rogers's novel has the elegance and erotic potency of Jane Campion's film The Piano.
NY Times Book Review
Meticulously constructed...Promised Lands is a strong, thoughtful novel...as much about the writing of fiction as it is about the seductive dangers of innocence and idealism.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Everyone has a vision of how things ought to be in Rogers's blazingly intelligent and intricate fifth novel. In January 1788, Lieutenant William Dawes, a 26-year-old British naval officer and astronomer, arrives in Australia as part of the First Fleet of England bearing convicts to colonize the territory. A precise, moral, religious man, Dawes believes in the promise of rebirth the new land holds for the convicts. "Burdened with conscience" as he is, however, he's unsettled by the natives' first words to the arriving immigrants: "Warra! Warra!" (Go away!). A few pages into Dawes's story, Rogers reveals that this third-person narrative is being written in the 1980s by another British idealist, Stephen Beech, a disgraced former schoolteacher. As deputy head of Campfield Comprehensive, Beech had dreamed of reforming the struggling school into a place of total equality. Instead, the school collapsed, leaving him to question, like Dawes, issues of responsibility, order and civilization. Their narratives are joined by a tortured third, that of Stephen's Polish wife, Olla, who, after a series of miscarriages and the death of one infant, has just given birth to a severely brain-damaged child, Daniel. Refusing to accept the doctors' prognosis, Olla persists in believing that Daniel is "remarkable," a redeemer come to save the world from evil. Compromise, destruction or salvation await each of the three visionaries. Intensely atmospheric, structurally sophisticated and deeply political, this is a challenging and hypnotic work. Rogers (Mr. Wroes's Virgins, etc.) brings graceful intelligence and a tough compassion to her literary autopsy of various personal and political utopias. (Apr.)
"What would happen if men like you ran the world, Mr. Dawes?" asks the governor of Australia's Sidney Cove colony, circa 1790. Lt. William Dawes once believed that Sidney Cove would be the basis of an ideal world. but he discovers a reality where planning decisions are based on expediency, convicts sell favors to marines, and natives are dispossessed. His gradual awakening is hastened by his role in a smallpox plague and his relationships with the other colonists and, eventually, the aboriginal girl Booron. The tale shifts to the present day, where Stephen Beech, who attempted to implement a utopian vision of his own as a school administrator, is writing the story of Sidney Cove. Olla, his wife, has had a vision that she is sure their deformed son Daniel will use to transform the world. Stephen and Olla's story intermingles with Dawes's, illuminating their individual interpretations of utopia. Rogers's superbly crafted narrative immerses the reader in the harsh choices and conditions of colonial life and in a political and philosophical exploration of utopias as framed by the governor's question. Highly recommended.Joshua Cohen, Mid-Hudson Lib. System, Poughkeepsie, N.Y.
Following a popular trend, Rogers's latest (after Her Living Image, 1986, etc.) fuses the past and the present, reaching from the 18th-century founding of a British colony in Australia to a failing 20th-century English marriage, and conjoining the roles of two idealists, each disillusioned in his own time and place.
When William Dawes lands in Australia as a young lieutenant in the British colonial force, he aims only to set up an observatory and carry out his assigned astronomer's duties. The difficulties of taming the wilderness and overseeing the cargo of convicts who are the first colonists, however, soon have him otherwise employed, and only in his spare time does he pursue his dream. His latter-day chronicler, Stephen Beech, similarly taxed by pursuing an idealistic mission in education amid the harsh realities of the British school system, has retreated to his research and writing. William's drive gets the observatory built, but his principles set him up for a series of falls, first with a female convict he befriends, then with another convict he has protected, only to have the man deliberately infect the natives with smallpox, to catastrophic effect. Finally, forced to go on a hunt for innocent natives who will be killed in retribution for the murder of a pederast who'd been in the favor of the colony's governor, William decides he's had enough and heads home. Stephen, having chosen a working-class wife and tried to be her Pygmalion, with her resentment and a deformed infant the only results, eventually packs it in too, going off to Australia in search of his subjectand himself.
Ambitious and solidly researched, but the different centuries and their challenges remain largely in separate orbits, with only a huge effort at contrivance pulling them parallel, and then only briefly.