As I wrote in my earlier post, Jack Cox’s debut novel Dodge Rose (Dalkey Archive Press) is a complex, elusive, multi-level narrative. There is so much going on in these 201 pages (too much, one might argue) that it begs to be unpacked word for word, phrase by phrase. (Not to mention the likelihood that many of the book’s Australian references a will undoubtedly go right over the heads of non-Aussie readers like me.) However, my intention here is simply to look at a couple of the things that most intrigued me as I read it.
Property law. In a way, the central character in the book is not Dodge Rose or the young women Eliza and Maxine; it is an apartment in the Potts Point district of Sydney, New South Wales. The novel gives us clues to the apartment’s location, but Cox actually mentions in his Acknowledgements that it is in the Kingsclere building. Located (and still extant) at 1 Greenknowe Avenue in Sydney, it was constructed in 1912 and was designed to hold “17 enormous residential apartments.” The need to settle Rose’s estate provides Cox with the opportunity to let a lawyer lecture Maxine and Eliza at great length on the subject of property law. It’s a cockeyed, often humorous rant that has echoes of William Gaddis’ classic novel about the legal system, A Frolic of His Own. Even though I have read Dodge Rose three times now, I don’t pretend to understand the full implications of the legalisms here, but I think I’ve got some of the points that Cox wants the reader to absorb. As the lawyer dives into the legal distinctions between real property and personal property, he several times suggests that the imposition of the English legal system upon the distant colony of Australia is deeply suspect. At one point he says in passing, “it strikes us… that there is no legal title to a foot of land in the colony” and later he adds that “real property is in New South Wales the most illusory of all possessions.” So when the lawyer refers to such things as the Waste Lands Occupation Act and “unoccupied” or “virgin” land, Cox seems to be prodding us to recall that Australia was occupied by as many as a million Aboriginal people when the English began imposing its citizens, its will, and its law upon the continent. Read more