A pub crawl through the Oz­male psy­che

Nigel Krauth

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books -

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

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