A pub crawl through the Ozmale psyche
WE’RE dealing with an expert here. For several years, Sam de Brito has made a business out of giving away blokes’ deepest secrets. In writing men’s columns for Sydney and Melbourne newspapers, and in running a well- known blog called All Men are Liars — Except Sam de Brito, he has established himself as a high priest of the Australian male confessional.
No surprise, then, that 39- year- old de Brito has written a novel. What is perhaps surprising is how good that novel is.
According to de Brito’s MySpace website, his novel ‘‘ takes the pulse of Aussie manhood’’. In fact it does more than take a pulse. It is a fully invasive piece of investigatory surgery performed on all parts of the Australian male, most especially his ego. At the same time it stabs at woeful failings in our culture to support the authentic Ozmale.
The idea behind de Brito’s work in general — including his nonfiction book No Tattoos Before You’re Thirty ( 2006) — is that the Australian male has never been game enough, or honest enough, or encouraged enough to tell his full story. Always inhibited by a culture that covers up the deeply unsavoury and negative, the Ozmale has lived a life of duplicity. When he looks in the mirror, he never tells what he really sees.
There are many issues involved here. Drugs, sex, driving at speed, cultural and racial attitudes, lying and cheating, loyalties and betrayals, laziness and masturbation . . . the list goes on. Addiction to all kinds of wickedness is involved. We’re talking not just the seven deadly sins; it seems the Ozmale has far more than seven to fess up to. Ergo, The Lost Boys .
The novel’s Peter Pan land where boys never grow up is Bondi’s pub- defined Bermuda Triangle: ‘‘ The Bergs, the Regis, the Rats. Three points on the map but blokes get lost in there for years.’’ Full of prawns, bread and beer, with chicks of all ages on heat at closing time, these boys never want to emerge. Feeling perfectly satisfied means they never see the need to take on adult responsibilities. Their lost- ness is their identity.
The Lost Boys is narrated by 35- year- old lost boy, Ned Jelli. He’s an impressive wanker, a big drug user and drinker, a crook footballer, a moderately successful lover in his heyday, an OK surfer, a passable intellectual in his group and now he’s going to fat. His character may be based somewhat on the author, but who cares? In reality he’s based on every Australian male since 1945.
Ned is writing the manuscript of the novel on his computer, getting sidetracked daily by porn sites and hangovers. He delivers his story in chunks — like a good Bondi spew — a discontinuous narrative so delicious you want to kiss it.
I mean it. Reading this novel, as a male reader, is like taking the heartfelt kiss of the world’s most gorgeous girl right after she has spewed through her nose in a Bondi hotel toilet. It’s ugly, but the underlying truth is what counts. On the other hand, if you are a female reader, it equates to the exhilaration of hearing your guy tell you the truth at last.
The story is knitted together from beautifully interlinked strands, providing an authentic mapping of the variety of Australian experience. On one level it’s a pub crawl: the sad events in Bondi watering holes as the ageing boy narrator drinks himself further into disillusionment. On another level it traces the ecstasy and tragedy of his one true love encounter, Alessandra.
But it’s also a tracing of Australian family institutions: birthdays, Christmases, New Year’s Eves, Anzac Days, depressions, domestic violences, anorexias, suicide attempts, death- bed vigils, funerals. These are interwoven with typical school experience: new school, truanting, masturbating in class, muck- up day, speech night, graduation day, schoolies week.
Seemingly no cultural stone is unturned in this narrative and, indeed, for most of it the
The Lost Boys By Sam de Brito Picador, 411pp, $ 32.95
narrator, his mates, his parents and the rest of the world are stoned. An awful lot of alcohol and drugs are consumed in this book. If the novel is a random breath test of the Australian nation, then the nation has come up immediately jail- able.
But as de Brito has quoted recently on one of his websites: ‘‘ When a culture ceases to provide specific initiatory pathways, the individual male psyche is left to initiate itself.’’ In other words, Australian males don’t know what to do with themselves in the movement from boyhood to adulthood.
The apparent initiation rituals — being legally able to drink in a pub, drive a car and have sex — simply capture the boy, and stall him to remain a boy. This is the sad, hugely important issue de Brito raises.
As an Australian male, I feel terrible that all my secrets have been told in just one book. I feel ashamed and drained, but also nobly uplifted. Most heartening, de Brito’s friend Julie, writing on his blog last New Year’s Eve, said: ‘‘ All men are liars, but all women are too. We’ll call it even.’’ Nigel Krauth is a writer who lives in Queensland.
Channelling men: Sam de Brito