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Reviews of Oyster

'Best Books of the Year' Listings

Toronto Globe & Mail

Sydney Morning Herald

The Age, Melbourne

The Observer

Publishers' Weekly

New York Times (Notable Books of the Year)




OYSTER is Hospital’s finest book, a novel full of Australia's blazing, prophetic light.

— Thomas Keneally in The Sydney Morning Herald


Hospital knows her Outback, and she brilliantly evokes the relentless heat... OYSTER is ambitious, obsessive, brilliant... challenges the reader on many levels...

Defiant and dauntless, Hospital blazes her own fire and brimstone trail... and it is a trail that few other writers in this country would dare to follow.

— Australian Review of Books


Turner Hospital’s best book... a taut, densely woven novel...

characters are meticulously drawn and believable, the most fascinating and frustrating of them being Queensland itself.



a stunning novel, a dense, bold, spine-tingling, sometimes difficult, yet totally absorbing work

Sydney Morning Herald




In an era of Jonestown, Waco, and the Solar Temple sect, the rise of a vicious cult leader follows a fairly predictable pattern: an insatiable appetite for power and sexual depravity... What is neither familiar nor predictable about Janette Turner Hospital’s new novel is the extraordinary power of place. The Australian Outback --with its extremes of drought, flash flood and fire -- is as much a rising beast as the cult leader Oyster.

OYSTER is a precarious, sensuous masterpiece. Its biblical cadence draws us into a savage world shimmering with language as prismatic as the fabulous opals of the doomed reef.

Toronto Globe & Mail


OYSTER is about the few souls in every community who see that the emperor is naked and say so in quiet, resonable voices.

This is taut, evocative writing.... a triumphant novel.

Montreal Gazette


Turner Hospital is a consummate, seductive wordsmith whose prose is so lush, earthy, sultry, and immediate that it almost enters through the nostrils and not the eyes. Startling in its imagery and ironic humour, her writing... keeps the reader trapped and mesmerised by the story.

Books in Canada


A world both sear and voluptuous, dark and light, harsh and merciful...

OYSTER is Turner Hospital’s most ambitious – and most seamless – novel to date. Always evocative in her use of language, often playful in her use of time, the author here delivers a highly visual novel, one in which colour and texture are palpable.

The destructive piston of human greed, and how love and religion can have the power of both good and evil – these are the big topics, heavy stuff. Happily, both Janette Turner Hospital’s vision and her writing are more than equal to the weight of her subject.

— Quill and Quire



United Kingdom

This book is a tour de force by Turner Hospital... Her use of language is fascinating and extraordinarily powerful and her narrative shimmers and shifts like the displaced reality in the heat of Outer Maroo itself...

It is not surprising both countries [Australia and Canada] would wish to claim her; she is one of the best female novelists currently writing in English..... She easily matches the more widely known and read Canadian icon Margaret Atwood for intelligence and technical brilliance and outdoes her in terms of structure and the broad relevance of her themes.

The Observer


Janette Turner Hospital is not yet as widely known as she will be. OYSTER, her latest novel... is an astonishing and brilliant book. A more compelling modern novel is hard to think of and for any reader of fiction, poetry, history, and even --or especially--of newspapers, OYSTER is a must buy, must read, must contemplate.

She has written five novels and a couple of collections of short stories and the elegant sufficiency of this body of work is accounted for by the great glory of her writing, a fusion of precision and atmospherics, of narrative, a micro-surgery on character, all exploring the nature of mankind, as good and as evil as we can be...

Turner Hospital has crafted an Australian story in that the peculiar and awesome landscape of western Queensland which could hardly be replicated... But she has also written an intense psychological thriller, as gripping as a whodunit, in which the tension becomes intolerable, as the characters that the reader has grown to like and admire, steadily and with hideous and warranted reluctance, approach the chaotic evil at the centre...

On no account miss out on this book.

The Scotsman, Edinburgh):


Turner Hospital transfigures the cliché-ridden Australian outback beloved of beer commercials, revealing all its dangerous beauties. She writes with mischievous energy, an outback Angela Carter with dirt under her fingernails...

Daily Telegraph


This powerful novel, told in a series of zig-zag time shifts, lingers in the mind. One can really believe there was a man called Oyster whose domination (like that of the gurus of Georgetown or Waco) led to holocaust... An original, lyrical use of language... Her previous novels have been shortlisted for major literary awards... This one should win.

Sunday Telegraph


OYSTER vibrates with energy... a novel of great breadth... She has distilled the vastness, the scorched earth and silences, into powerful, sensual prose... an ambitious novel...of great force.

Literary Review


Hospital has created a location so convincingly remote that it seems to belong in a frightening borderline dimension of mirages... It is a black hole in the outback...

Underpinned by the imaginative conjunction of oyster and opal (and it does communicate a very seductive fascination with opal) OYSTER is a poetic novel... tipped to be in with a chance for the Booker... Not just opalescent but Technicolor, Oyster is a headier book than we are used to in our little country.

Sunday Times


Janette Turner Hospital’s fine new novel, OYSTER... provides a refreshingly up-to-date view of the state of Queensland, notorious for its buck-eyed politics... The heat and the climate take on a powerful force; atmosphere here means more than an adjunct to location.... The main women characters all have her stamp; they are idiosyncratic spirits built out of the serendipity of wandering imagination... Janette Turner Hospital has the bravery of a consistent risk-taker.

Times Literary Supplement


What Hospital does superbly is the setting of Outer Maroo... OYSTER, with its evocative sense of place and exciting plot should command a wider readership for an author of powerful literary gifts.

The Independent


...a language of shocking physicality...

The quality of Janette Turner Hospital’s descriptive writing is more absolutely concrete and certain here even than in her previous books. Always an instinctive writer, she has given herself attentively to the mystery of her native land and woven it into themes of considerable grandeur and hard beauty, shaded by an understanding of what is tender in each one of us...

Independent on Sunday


... a lyrical and sophisticated way of storytelling. Much of the power and originality of the novel stems from the mesmerising, disconcerting quality of the writing and Janette Turner Hospital’s ability to create a unique pictorial sense of place.

The Times (weekday) extraordinary novel... OYSTER evokes a world no less kaleidoscopically bizarre than that of her previous novel THE LAST MAGICIAN, but this time Hospital, having regrouped her narrative resources, has set her book in the outback among the opal fields and the tense millenarian communities of Queensland.

Sparked off by the Waco, Texas, siege and shootings, Hospital examines the role of charismatic leaders (here the eponymous Oyster) in a society which is both incredibly ancient and utterly of the here and now...

Times Educational Supplement


If you want to write novels these days, the old white Commonwealth is the place to be born. There’s a sweep and poetic confidence in the work of a Rushdie, a Malouf,...or of Annie Proulx, that leaves most English novels looking tame and parochial. Janette Turner Hospital is up there with the very best.

OYSTER is about demagoguery, mass hysteria, and the closed communties in which they flourish... We follow with bated breath the steps to Armageddon.... OYSTER is cunningly constructed: told from different viewpoints, it moves forwards and backwards in time. Its tight plotting... gives it the grip of a thriller...

Its language is sensuous and poetic, disproving the general rule that you can have language (Rushdie, Amis) or engagement (Rendell) but not both. Its psychology is subtle. And it achieves the mysterious freedoms of magic realism without succumbing to the tiresome cop-out of failing to answer the question you’ve raised. In short, OYSTER triumphantly walks a tricky tightrope. This is a wonderful book that deserves to sell millions.

New Statesman and Society


It has been said that Turner Hospital is a writer’s novelist, complex and difficult. But this, her latest novel, is a triumph of literary skills blended with dreamtime story-telling, successful not despite but because of its unlinearity. It is through many voices and mirage-like refractions that we begin to understand the suffocating mystery hanging over an outback town in West Queensland.

Glasgow Herald



United States


Part of the seductive power of Hospital’s novels (The Last Magician; Charades) lies in her practice of constructing the plot in a series of interlocking narratives, like an intricate jigsaw puzzle.... Hospital creates her most powerful and dazzling novel to date. In sensuous prose, feverish with the cadences of mystery and doom, sometimes hallucinatory but always meticulously controlled, she spins a story eerie in its timeliness and credibility.

Publishers Weekly (special starred * and boxed review)


Let there be no secret about this: Australian novelist Janette Turner Hospital writes with brilliance and originality, evoking a suffocating, shimmering, heat-and-dust-filled landscape where truth is distorted as if viewed in a cracked mirror.

PEOPLE Magazine

(Lead review, with half-page color photograph of author, March 30, l998)


Most of the story is told by a bright, troubled girl named Mercy, daughter of a preacher whose church has been taken over by religious zealots.... The horror here is peeked at slantwise, through a girl’s splayed fingers.... The story, of course, is a rough match with remembered headlines -- of Waco, of Heaven’s Gate and the rest. But the mad Oyster...and the hate-filled mining town.. have their own bitter, brilliant reality in this impressive novel.

TIME Magazine

(full page, with photographs of author and book jacket, April 6, 1998)


Gradually it becomes clear that the true protagonist of Oyster is Outer Maroo itself... and the drama that unfolds within its fiercely guarded borders reads like a recounted dream... And yet from these varied voices and images a single, coherent narative emerges.... Oyster casts a consistent spell. It is both a rare story and an accomplished piece of writing.

New York Times Book Review

(Mar22, ’98; also cited for next 3 wks in 'Editor’s Choice–Bear in Mind', Mar 29, Apr 5, Apr 12)


Janette Turner Hospital is the Australian writer living in Canada who has given us such marvelous novels as Charades and The Last Magician. Her new novel, Oyster, is a triumph of writerly virtuosity, an absolutely bravura performance.

New York Newsday


An ominous, elegant jewel of a book.

Washington Post


Echoes of Waco, Heaven’s Gate, and Jonestown combine with intimations of apocalypse in a stunningly evocative story of life in a remote Australian hell-hole -- a place where evil is as pervasive as the heat, goodness as rare as rain.... A deep and harrowing journey through a desolate land into the recesses of the soul and then back into the light, all recorded in luminous prose.

Kirkus Reviews


Hospital’s demanding, densely layered, symphonic novels have never received the attention they deserve -- a bit too ornate to achieve commercial success or win high-profile awards.... Hospital writes of the lure of cults not with the outraged eyes of a moralist but with an artist’s sensitivity to mood and character. We feel Oyster’s power in the “bent air” of Outer Maroo, and we smell the “feral stench of hatred” as the conspirators stalk the outsiders. A genuinely hypnotic novel.

Booklist, American Library Association (Special starred * and boxed review)


Reading one of Janette Turner Hospital’s novels feels like walking a mysterious labyrinth.... Hospital brilliantly pulls together the many disconnected themes of her very complicated plot... with intelligent writing and remarkable craftsmanship.

San Francisco Chronicle


a haunting, beautifully written book

San Diego Union-Tribune