Martin Blackman is a psychiatrist whose English wife Lucy gets entangled in a relationship with his dying friend Felix. Martin Blackman returns to Adelaide, Australia, after ten years in England, accompanied by his beautiful English wife, Lucy. Both are psychiatrists.
Click here to see the rest of this review
They met five years ago in London, when Lucy, as a new trainee doctor, had to spend one hour per week discussing her cases with Martin. They fell in love and started a relationship blazing with sex and love.
In Adelaide Martin drives out on a Sunday to find his old friend Felix Johnson, who stays on a farm in the Adelaide Hills. He has known Felix since school days, when both were scholarship students at Adelaide Grammar School. Felix became a surgeon.
They find Felix much changed, both physically and mentally. He has lost weight and is direct to the point of tactlessness. He worked among the Aboriginal communities in the desert, learning some of their language and culture. A young woman, obviously a lover, comes out of the house and insists that Felix drive her back to work. He leaves Martin and Lucy there alone and they make love under the apricot tree.
The next Sunday Martin visits Felix on his own. He fails to penetrate Felix's passive aggression. Felix tells him the meaning of the Aboriginal expression “three dog night” – the number of dogs you need around you to keep you warm on a cold desert night.
Martin invites some of his old medical friends to Lucy's birthday lunch a week later, in mid-December. Felix is also invited. He gives Lucy a priceless Aboriginal painting given to him by an old Aboriginal man, Doctor Jerry Jungarayyi. It is called Budgerigar Dreaming. During the lunch they learn from the other doctors there that Felix has Hepatitis C, a serious contagious disease. That is why Felix is not allowed to practice anymore. The party breaks up in accusations of flirtation with Lucy between Felix and Frank, one of the other doctors.
Afterward Martin and Lucy drive to Felix's house, concerned for his welfare. They learn that he was initiated by the Aboriginals and sexually mutilated as part of the ceremony. Felix makes it clear that he does not want their pity.
Despite phone calls and messages left, they do not hear from Felix again. At the end of February they attend Frank's birthday party and learn that Felix has cancer, a complication of the hepatitis. They pay Felix an unannounced visit.
He tells them how he got the disease. In the desert he was on call when an Aboriginal child presented with appendicitis. He was drunk at the time. While he waited to sober up to operate, the child's appendix burst and he died in surgery. An inquest could not find him guilty, but tribal rules required revenge. Felix escaped from the desert. However, he had contracted hepatitis from the child. He had six months to live.
When Felix has to attend the College of Surgeons dinner as after-dinner speaker, he “borrows” Lucy as partner. Then he invites her, alone, to his birthday dinner the next week. Martin is consumed with jealousy. He takes a taxi to Felix's house to spy on them, but sees nothing incriminating. At 4 a.m. he phones Lucy – she had too much to drink and stayed overnight at Felix's.
Felix has fallen in love with Lucy and, having only a few months to live, wants to spend that time with her. Lucy's feelings seem to be only of pity. He takes her on a trip into the desert, to the site of the Dreaming painting, straining relations between Martin and Lucy even further.
Lucy phones Martin from One Shoe Creek, west of Alice Springs. Felix has been hospitalized after coughing blood and she needs Martin's assistance. Martin arrives, his jealousy fueled by the fact that Felix and Lucy shared a hotel room.
The next day Felix discharges himself from hospital. They attend a meeting with the family of the dead child. Felix promises the family the proceeds of his life insurance.
With Martin, Lucy, an Aboriginal driver named Bedford and Doctor Jerry Jungarayyi, they set off further into the desert. Felix needs constant morphine injections. On the second night Felix wets himself. After cleaning him, Lucy takes him with her into her sleeping bag.
The next day they arrive at the waterhole. Martin gets the night shift of caring for Felix. With Felix's approval, he overdoses him with morphine while Lucy sleeps. At dawn huge swarms of budgerigars arrive to drink. Felix dies. They give him a desert “burial”.
Three months later Martin is at Felix's house, which he has inherited. He comes across a bundle of love letters that Lucy wrote to Felix. He starts to read them, but then realizes that his only chance of reconciliation with Lucy lies in not reading the letters.
Best part of story, including ending:
The descriptions of places and scenes are more than just visual. They really place you right there in the situation.
Best scene in story:
After the dying Felix's offer of his life insurance proceeds is accepted, everybody gets up and leaves. Felix is left sitting on the ground, until the father of the dead child helps him up.
Opinion about the main character:
Martin has an obsessive need to know things - words, facts, names. This is partly what drives his jealousy. In the end he is redeemed by his ability to let the love letters go without reading them.