Set in the late 18th century, it's the story of William Buckley (a real person, the dust jacket informs us), an English villager who, having performed in a reenactment of an ancient fertility ritual, is arrested, charged with "lewdness and Popery," and transported to a prison camp in "New Holland" (Australia). After escaping, Buckley is taken in by a tribe of Aborigines (who call themselves "the People") and soon thereafter comes to be revered as their hero-god Murrangurk, whose appearance was long ago foretold in the prophetic creation ritual they call "the Dreaming" (at which skill the transformed Buckley proves almost preternaturally adept). Eventually spotted by white colonialists, Buckley/Murrangurk/Strandloper (this last term denoting a further incarnation) is employed as a translator and given a "King's Pardon," then returns to his Cheshire home for the mixed blessing of a hesitant reunion with the woman he formerly loved, who may have borne his child. All of this is related in a crabbed, terse prose compounded of rustic British slang, Miltonic verse, folk songs and nursery rhymes, and the ornate language of both Church of England rituals and the Latin Mass. It's often very beautiful, especially when describing tenets of the Aborigines' faith ("In the Beginning, when the waters parted, and the Ancestors dreamed all that is, and woke the life that slept, the sky lay on the earth, and the sun could not move, until the Magpie lifted the earth with a stick").
Too often, though, this severely gnomic fiction scorns to render scene or incident clearly, leaving even the most willing reader unsure of what's happening on any given page. This may be a marvelous novel. It's hard to tell.