Gert sometimes wonders if Anthony O’Neill is a hoax and she’s the only reader in Australia who doesn’t know it. Why else would a writer published in 14 countries, a writer of such enormous range, imagination and inventiveness, have such a low profile in his own country?
His first book, Scherezade (2001) is an exuberant, witty tale about magic, vengeance and the nature of storytelling, based on The Arabian Nights, described by The Independent on Sunday as “a brilliant debut”.
There followed the superb historical thriller The Lamplighter (2003), a wonderfully sinister story of evil intent and possession in Victorian Edinburgh – “In terms of style alone, O’Neill’s book is in a class of its own” (Glasgow Herald).
The Empire of Eternity (2006) is set in Napoleonic France and Victorian England and centres on Napoleon’s search in Egypt for the Chamber of Eternity, said to contain the secrets of the meaning of life and of immortality – “suave, daring and unflaggingly entertaining” (The Bulletin).
Finally, Gert’s favourite, The Unscratchables (2009) (written under the name Cornelius Kane), a fast-paced police thriller starring dogs and cats, in which Detective Max ‘Crusher’ McNash, a fearless bull terrier, and special agent Cassius Lap, a very Zen Siamese of the FBI (Feline Bureau of Investigation), pursue a serial killer cat targeting dogs – “can stand strong comparisons: like Fielding in Shamela, Twain in A Connecticut Yankee at the Court of King Arthur and Orwell in Animal Farm” (The Age).
“It is hard to think of another recent Australian novelist whose career has begun so flamboyantly and yet with such assurance,” The Bulletin said of him. Vivid, pacy and witty as he is, his books have a profound moral and philosophical dimension, concerned with big metaphysical issues – the power of the mind, the imaginative connection between history, the public record and individual memory, the dimensions of reality, good and evil, power and manipulation – and are a rambunctious song of joy to the writerly imagination.
Why don’t we hear more about him?