Skip to content

April 3, 2018


The Acolyte

by N@ncy


Epigraph: (see photo above)

  1. Written by Harry Graham know for his Ruthless Rhymes
  2. full of  black humor.
  3. Black humor is the humorous portrayal of incidents which should not be laughable.
  4. We find ourselves  laughing, but quickly realize the horror that lies beneath
  5. …the seemingly amusing situation.


Introduction:   (exposition)

  1. Setting: Grogbusters, Australia
  2. Timeline: 28 years
  3. Characters: …a hideous Greek chorus of yes-men (pg 7)
  4. This story is not a love triangle.
  5.  …lines that connect but never never never intersect.
  6. ..You have us, a trapezoid. (pg 88)
  7. Sisters born in Australia: Hilda and Ilse
  8. Hilda –  Hilda wife of Holberg, retained only the
  9. cuckoo-clock vestiges of their fatherland. (pg 12)
  10. Hilda patiently bears his cruelty and indifference,
  11. …along with his frequent infidelities, and remains
  12. humble and servile, even to the
  13. …point of feigning blindness at times.
  14. Ilse –  flax-coloured hair, fragility of bone, cottage cheese skin (pg 12)
  15. Jack Holberg –  …sweated confidence (pg 25)
  16. …the beer-hall piano player turned
  17. high priest of avant-garde serious music.
  18. “Men can shrivel women in a marriage.
  19. …I’ve watched Hilda shrivel” (pg 73)
  20. Paul Vespers –  (narrator…and in love with Hilda)
  21. non-achiever, no-hoper, failure,
  22. …parental slap in the face of gratitude. (pg 10)
  23. ..becomes  “valet Vesper” for Holberg.
  24. Paul describes himself:
  25. Cyclops Vesper, the twelfth  man
  26. (non-playing reserve in 11-player cricket side)
  27. a dog in his responses
  28. ….the gauche butler, harem pander, dusting maid. (pg 115)
  29. Paul is ‘The Acolyte” in the title
  30. …willingly giving  up his own life, sacrificed for art and celebrity.


What is the first plot point? (act 1)

  1. I’ve burnt my bridges” ( pg 67) – Paul makes a major decision.
  2. This is the point of no return.
  3. Paul has crossed his personal Rubicon.
  4. He will soon act in a way that cannot be undone.
  5. This decision to leave ‘the outside world’
  6. drives the plot forward. (tension)
  7. Paul has no clear idea of what he’s really getting himself into.


Middle: (act 2)  (religious allusions)

  1. Paul feels he is being punished for following  Holberg.
  2. “Holberg  is my cross and I’m nailed to him...” (pg 70)
  3. Paul adresses the reader: “Have you noticed as I have noticed
  4. …that since the taking of vows (7 yrs with Holberg) my
  5. …style has been bruised?” (pg 80)
  6. “This the beginning of the crack-up?” (pg 80)


What is the second  plot point? (act 3….and resolution)

  1. Holberg is  totally unconcerned about  Paul’s feelings.
  2. Holberg is the kicker.
  3. He pushes, jabs, pokes and thumps Paul to a breaking point.
  4. Paul: major character change…reactive –> pro-active
  5. Holberg:  what does he really want?  (pg 117) ( spoiler)
  6. Climax: Paul and Holberg clash. (pg 117-118) (no spoiler)
  7. Resolution: “It was the laugh that did it.” (pg 155)
  8. Holberg finally comes alive “cracking for the first time” (pg 157)
  9. He does not care about Paul…until  valet Vesper   gets in his way!
  10. Last words of Holberg: ” I’ll finish you Vesper!…Finish you for this.”



  1. Blindness  (disability)
  2. Irony: blindness is something worthy, characters long for it.
  3. Sense of sight
  4. Irony: gift of sight becomes burdensome.
  5. Paul says near the end of the book  (reads Holberg’s journal in braille)
  6. …that he had to throw off his gift of sight to finally see
  7. …Jack Holberg  for what he really is
  8. …and gain ultimate enlightenment!



  1. Strong point: Astley leaves a trail of clues for the reader.
  2. “…an epiphany that brought me to a self-sense for the minute…”
  3.  parable of trees (pg 22) (Judges 9: 8-15 …look it up!)
  4. Every character  is  either physically or metaphorically blind!
  5. Astley fills the novel with subtle references
  6. I buried my outrage in sherry.” (not wanting to see) pg 7
  7. Sadie (Holberg’s guardian) 
  8. fakes blindness herself…
  9. “Sadie has sensibly turned her back on all of us.” (pg 119)
  10. Statues in garden  
  11. “Their blind eyes stare at…fruit the will never touch”(pg 67)
  12. While you read the book…just notice who cleverly Astley does this!


  1. Strong point: Astley  writes a roman à clef
  2. “…she vented her rage at ‘followers’ of all kinds
  3. …a critique of ‘followers’ of the literary critical establishment.”
  4. ref: Thea Astley: Inventing Her Own Weather by  K. Lamb, pg 214)
  5. Pg 153:  Holberg plays with a sling-shot Paul made:
  6. “What’s the purpose of  it? Let me guess…Beleaguered by the
  7. public and the critics, we aim this pretty thing in our defense. Is that it?”
  8. Astley’s book represents the ‘sling-shot’.
  9. Pg 55: The wolf-pack will be on to me.
  10. Bite and snap till you’ve made it,
  11. …then fawn to the very end.”
  12. ….sounds like Thea Astley speaking!!


  1. Strong point: clever metaphors, allusions to music,
  2. …Catholic rituals and history, poetry.
  3. Half the fun is trying to find all
  4. …these ‘gems’ hidden in the text!
  5. Weak point: ch 3 and ch 7  where the story
  6. …begins to drag and feels stretched
  7. …but just keep on reading!


Personal favorites:

  1. pg 15:Pulling on my clothes was like robing for tenebrae. There was a death somewhere and no communion”    This is a brilliant allusion.
  2. Tenebrae is Latin for “darkness”. It is a religious service consisting of matins and lauds of the last three days of Holy Week. (Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday.
  3. Tone: ominous, gloom.


  1. pg 17: ” I was whacking away towards Canossa in an instant, putting genuine arms around her this time…..and sensing Hilda’s curious eyes!” (Paul seeking pardon from mother.)
  2. In January 1077 the Holy Roman emperor Henry IV did penance at the castle Canossa to obtain a pardon from his excommunication by Pope Gregory VII.
  3. Tone: funny


Last thoughts:

  1. I had to re-read chapter 1.
  2. I have missed so many clues.
  3. The first four paragraphs are in the far future.
  4. Don’t worry about Nielsen, music critic, in the first sentence…
  5. “true earthworm in the garden of art (pg 149)
  6. …he pops up in the last chapter.
  7. I tell you this so you won’t make the mistakes I made!
  8. Paul is older and his remarks reveal how he feels.
  9. I’d been in the habit of giving for years.
  10. …But my tongue was in clamps.”
  11. I have to finish The Acolyte today but it will be rough going.
  12. The book is intense every word packs a punch and
  13. …this takes a toll on my brain.
  14. It is an exhausting book….but also exhilarating.
  15. I see the craft in the writing and this comes
  16. ..from Astley’s depth  of knowledge of syntax, poetry,
  17. literary devices (irony, anaphora, metaphor, homonym).
  18. Her Catholic heritage and love of music  add the finishing touches.
  19. Astley uses latin phrases, catholic history ( “…wacking towards Canossa” pg 17)
  20. autos-da-fé (ritual of public penance of condemned heretics) pg 147.
  21. details of the catholic rituals  (tenebrae) and many
  22. references to composers, (Dag Wiren) their works and  the
  23. vocabulary of music (cadenza, allegro, triad, allegretto (pg 139).
  24.  Astley’s  story structure is nothing more or less than a
  25. ..recognition of how life works.
  26. She recreates it in a dramatic, satirical way on the page.
  27. It took Astley 3 years to write this  book.
  28. It took me 4 days to read….158 pages!
  29. I was relieved, nobody died at the end.
  30. No headaches….tonight…just a feeling that I have
  31. …read great literature!
  32. #MustRead




  1. This book is not available as an E-book
  2. so I had to order it from Australia.
  3. This is the cover I received from University Queensland Press
  4. and is not available on Amazon.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Note: HTML is allowed. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to comments

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: