Florid States by Rod Usher

I’ve read this novel twice (9 and 11 years ago), and I would read it again if I could locate a copy.

`I have a weakness for tangents.’

Ned Quinn, in Melbourne, responds to a lonely hearts advertisement in a magazine. The ensuing correspondence leads him to visit Jennifer Duncan in an isolated insular valley in rural Queensland. Jennifer and Quinn find a rhythm together in their lives, and are happy. The setting, by the banks of the Condamine, in the dusty Overton Valley, is also part of the story. The heat, the river and the isolation, each play a part in this powerful story of love and resilience, and of weakness, small-mindedness and cruelty.

Ned has schizophrenia. The label, even more than the disease itself, becomes a barrier in the small valley where unexplained difference is not welcomed. Jennifer and Quinn find unlikely allies and unexpected foes during a campaign to drive Quinn out. The pressure becomes too much for Quinn, and he becomes ill. Quinn’s episodes of illness, with his flawed perceptions and alternate realities, create a barrier which few try to understand. And yet, Quinn is not the only person in the valley with flawed perceptions.

This is a bitter-sweet story. The writing is superb, the story moves quickly and the main characters are quirkily human. I enjoyed reading this novel although in many ways it made me sad.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

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