Readers who loved Cairo have been eagerly awaiting the next instalment of these Melbourne lives but this is a very different book. Those who come to Wormsley for the first time need have no fear: The Diplomat easily stands alone.
Edward's wife of several years, Gertrude, is dead, dying of an overdose alone in a London bed-sit while Edward is enduring court-ordered detox. Both tragic drug-addicts, Edward is to be deported from the United Kingdom to return to his home city, Melbourne. He is allowed to take Gertrude's ashes with him, although she was cremated before he was out of detox.
Unlike Cairo, The Diplomat has no real characters beyond Edward and the action is spread across a couple of days only. Ron, Gertrude's father, and Gloria, her much-loved sister, make brief appearances and vital interventions in Edward's return. Ron is heart-broken that he knew so little of Gertrude's descent into hell and, therefore could never help. Gloria reveals to Edward aspects of Gertrude's London life of which he had no knowledge.
Edward has a harrowing visit to his own father's Richmond flat to discover his father's world has tragically shrunken. His brother, Neil, still at home, lives only for cricket. Their world is so bleak that there is no escape for Edward there.
While in the depth of their addiction, Gertrude and Edward had dreamed of starting a better life. They would find their way to Gippsland's beautiful Waratah Bay and live a clean and wholesome life. Edward tells the reader most drug addicts develop such fantasies.
He brings high-grade heroin with him back from London, intending to sell it for a high price in heroin drought-stricken Melbourne to fund his fantasy. The deal will go down at The Diplomat, a seedy St Kilda motel. Edward sweats on the outcome.
Womersley creates a Melbourne-noir which is as fascinating as it is repulsive. Brunswick Street, Fitzroy, and Fitzroy Street, St Kilda are Edward's beats, and they are realised with remarkable realism. The reader can almost feel and smell the seediness.
The betrayal of talent underscores this book. Gertrude had had real artistic ability, Edward less so, but there was, once, hope. Youthful ambition succumbs to its destruction by heroin. The ability of Edward and Gertrude to deceive themselves and to accept their monumental failure to achieve what they might have is the first great failure that underscores and ruins every other aspect of their lives.
This is a bleak book, a book without hope. For readers remote from this world of half-living it seems true. Beautifully written, intensely focused, The Diplomat packs a punch that few readers will forget readily.
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