Visiting Fellow, by Dave Williamson, Reviewed.

visiting fellow

Gentle comedy, interspersed with charmingly naughty sexual encounters and academic forays characterise this novel. Before I go any further, let me stress that this is not erotica; the sex comes with a naivety that arouses smiles rather than passion in the reader.

Set in Canada and Tasmania, the novel follows the adventures, trials and triumphs of a history professor invited to the post of visiting fellow at a university in the small island that lies south of the Australian mainland. We get to meet Wally, the eponymous professor, Marjorie, his selfish wife, Carolyn, the artist he meets along the way, and a large number of academics, students and children. Told mostly in third person, with occasional trips into first person, the story unfolds at a mild pace appropriate to the subject matter and settings. There are amusing details of life in the two universities and there is warmth in many of the relationships explored.

You won’t find violence or swearing here, but there is the occasional surprise. One of which is that it’s a surprisingly enjoyable read. There were odd passages I skipped (one about an ice hockey match that held no interest for me) but I found most of the book engaging and entertaining. It might be a little too long: for me, it could benefit from more editing, especially where some passages stray into the territory of travelogue. For all that, I learnt things about Canada and Tasmania that were new to me, and such added interest is often a bonus in a novel.

Life’s full of odd coincidences: the book I read prior to this was also set in Canada. And I recently had reason to do some basic research on Tasmania, as my daughter is working in Australia and will have reason to visit the island later in her stay. So many of the setting descriptions constituted a bit of serendipity.

This is a novel about the nature of relationships: parent and child, divorced spouses, lovers, teachers and students, friends. It has warmth and charm running through it, the characters are engaging, the story is a gentle romp and the settings are interesting without being too exotic. If you’re looking for a satisfying but undemanding and relaxing read, this could well be it. I certainly enjoyed it.