HOW many Earthly lifetimes can a single human soul endure?
In its initial chapter readers meet one of the two hosts of Crossings as an aged version of the debauched and desperate 19th-century Parisian poet Charles Baudelaire.
Encased in a body riddled with syphilis, penniless and itinerant, the essence of Baudelaire has every reason to embrace the notion of transmigrating from this broken carapace to re-emerge with a new physical identity, ready to embark on a reinvigorated existence but with its amassed memories intact. Baudelaire’s is not the only figure to be inhabited over the course of roughly 150 years by this relater of tall tales, however; in fact, it is not even the first.
The unfolding of the novel also reveals a second shape-shifting storyteller, originating as Polynesian islander Alula at the time of isolated Oaeetee’s discovery by seafaring French explorers.
In the course of making its way from the mid Pacific Ocean to the literary heartland of Europe, this latter raconteur travels via idyllic Mauritius, the squalid port city of Marseille in France and a sugarcane plantation in the American Deep South. Changing gender en route, it pursues its former lover, Koahu, around the globe, campaigning desperately for an long-awaited emotional reunion.
Presented in three distinct yet complementary parts, Melbourne author Landragin’s manuscript weaves together disparate periods in history (including the two world wars), locations as diverse as steamy New Orleans, sophisticated Brussels and the French-Spanish border region of the Pyrenees, and a pair of narrators.
Perhaps most remarkably, it can be read in a choice of two ways: conventionally, from the first page of the book as it stands published through to the last, or through the eyes of a secondary character, Baroness Beattie Ellingham, following a sequence outlined in the introduction that delivers a unique storyline.