Grab-bag of thoughts on road to discovery
OUR peculiarities, your frailties and quirks, your impotence ... your old wounds, your creaking bones . . . are your stock in trade,’’ writes Robert Dessaix about the essay, which he considers to be an undervalued, misunderstood and naked form.
A good essay can take many forms and is tricky to define. In this chatty collection, the Tasmania-based writer and broadcaster pours out a rippling tide of heartfelt, erudite, gossipy and philosophical dreaming, crossing international borders and voicing intimate concerns.
Many successful essayists either cultivate a persuasively wise tone or make challeng- ing, funny propositions. Dessaix favours the first of these options, occasionally edging towards the second.
As I Was Saying is meticulously embroidered from his public talks, print journalism, radio broadcasts, autobiography ( A Mother’s Disgrace), nonfiction ( Twilight of Love: Travels with Turgenev) and novels ( Corfu and Night Letters).
His fictional characters, cultural heroes (including Michel de Montaigne, Andre Gide and Alain de Botton) as well as past and present international and national luminaries add colour and deft fields of meaning.
The tone is capricious, light and feathery in one moment, arch, tender, crowing or prickling in the next.
This is a teasing grab-bag of thoughts, memories, anecdotes and effronteries that achieves luxurious coherence.
A lyrical reflection on idleness; the ‘‘ brouhaha’’ over John Howard’s desire to write ‘‘ mateship’’ into the Constitution; the canine’s capacity for ‘‘ an unhurried appreciation of the moment’’; a tribute to the nose; a spin on postmodernism and an interpretation of swearing as a ‘‘ labiodental fricative’’, a verbal throwaway as the mind reaches for what to say next, all pique interest.
As a seasoned global adventurer and former resident of Russia, Dessaix’s insights on travel sparkle and yet can sting. Do we really journey to get a better grasp on who we are in the mirror of a greater humanity?
Travelling cooks plying chilli in Thailand, English adventurers Stephen Fry and Griff Rhys Jones and the garlanded explorer Richard Burton all rate a mention.
Travel is dissected insightfully. The desire for paradise, the search for heightened