Undone by formulaic
BIOGRAPHY gets a good press, but isn’t it just sex, lies and audiotape? Doesn’t it merely impose artificial order on chaos? How can it convey nuance and complex motivation? Isn’t biography just an academic conceit, a verballing of the defenceless subject? Does it not masquerade as a convincing, coherent narrative when it is nothing more than a mass of suppositions and elisions? Isn’t life a Churchillian mystery, guarded by a riddle and wrapped in the enigma of time?
Beware the biographer, that uninvited familiar who knows more about you than you yourself even before that first, tense meeting. How much worse when the smiling assassin is brought into your life and home, toothbrush and all, by your egocentric spouse. The slow, awful realisation that the detective already knows your dark secrets but demands a confession regardless. The biographer as inquisitor, agent provocateur and, ultimately, liberator.
The Biographer asks whether we can shed the past and become someone else. Greer Gordon, also known as Gigi Svoboda, changes names and countries. Husband Mischa is the model. He apparently lives solely in the present, his murky past alchemised in his mysterious art. The drama emanates from the biographer, the Grin Reaper who wipes the smile off everyone’s face. He arrives bearing Greer’s past in his voice recorder. No wonder artists hire hagiographers to write their phony, commercial biographies. It’s a great idea for a novel. In 1979, 30ish Greer works in a trendy art gallery at St Kilda, Melbourne. Married a few weeks to Charlie, a charming urbane suit, Greer falls spectacularly in love with Czech emigre painter Mischa Svoboda. They promptly flee to Sydney, dumping Charlie and Mischa’s loyal gallery forever. Wandering the world for years, they fetch up at the idyllic Tuscan retreat of Rollo, an octogenarian expat painter ( who bears an uncanny resemblance to Jeffrey Smart) and his pragmatic companion Guy, a vigneron.
The worm invading this cocoon is Tony, a smooth LA professional biographer on the make. His Machiavellian pursuit of Greer, who is the