Moving Among Strangers: Randolph Stow and My Family

By Gabrielle Carey UQP

As her mother Joan lies dying, Gabrielle Carey writes a letter to Joan’s childhood friend, the reclusive novelist Randolph Stow. This letter sets in motion a literary pilgrimage that reveals long-buried family secrets. Like her mother, Stow had grown up in Western Australia. After early literary success and a Miles Franklin Award win in 1958 for his novel To the Islands, he left for England and a life of self-imposed exile.

Living most of her life on the east coast, Gabrielle was also estranged from her family’s west Australian roots, but never questioned why. A devoted fan of Stow’s writing, she becomes fascinated by his connection with her extended family, but before she can meet him he dies. With only a few pieces of correspondence to guide her, Gabrielle embarks on a journey from the red-dirt landscape of Western Australia to the English seaside town of Harwich in a quest to understand her family’s past and Stow’s place in it.

Moving Among Strangers is a celebration of one of Australia’s most enigmatic and visionary writers.

Gabrielle Carey

Gabrielle Carey is the author of novels, biography, autobiography, essays, articles and short stories. She teaches writing at the University of Technology, Sydney, where her infatuation with Randolph Stow is happily tolerated. Her most recent book was the memoir The Waiting Room (2009).

Judges' report

The late Australian novelist and poet Randolph Stow, generally regarded as one of the country’s most important novelists, left Australia in 1966 and lived out the rest of his life in rural England. In this unusual and reflective book,  Gabrielle Carey explores her personal connection with Stow – his long-standing friendship with her mother – and her own growing fascination with the novelist and his work. It is an intriguing generic hybrid, partly intelligent memoir and partly insightful cultural history, showing the mixed reaction from Australian critics and readers to Stow’s work and the effect it had on his life and writing.

This is a meditative book moving in widening circles of exploration rather than a story driven by events, but the reader feels a powerful pull to keep on reading a book that is, in its quiet way, so alluring and seductive. While the subject matter is engaging in itself, focusing on Stow’s own singular nature and moving across a wide range of topics from the Australian materialism and fear of metaphysics prevalent in mid-twentieth-century cultural life to the nature of personal friendship and the way it is expressed in letters, Carey’s own thoughtful, gentle, questioning voice is a major part of the book’s appeal.