Claws

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Stephen Romei

Frank Moor­house has a thought-pro­vok­ing es­say in the just-pub­lished Au­tumn is­sue of Mean­jin. Given its ti­tle (and its qual­ity) I hope he was paid well, and promptly. “Is Writ­ing Still a Way of Life?” the cover line reads. “Frank Moor­house won­ders if it ever was.” In­side is a long, en­gag­ing, some­times per­sonal piece by Moor­house, 78, which starts with his youth­ful de­sire to be a writer. There’s a nice mo­ment where he re­calls be­ing about 19 and buy­ing a cor­duroy smok­ing jacket, which he saw as a “writ­ers jacket”. A few years later, with no book yet to his name, he burned it. He re­mem­bers, decades later, the pos­i­tive New York Times re­view of his 1988 novel Forty-Seven­teen. A “bench­mark in my writ­ing life”. The re­viewer was An­gela Carter. He dis­cusses what he sees as a gap, of­ten a per­verse one, in the think­ing of writ­ers. “It is … char­ac­ter­is­tic of many lit­er­ary writ­ers to be ig­no­rant of the eco­nom­ics of our vo­ca­tion.” He moves from there to the con­tentious topic of the pub­lic fund­ing of writ­ers. He likes the Swedish scheme where se­nior authors re­ceive ten­ure. Short of this, he sug­gests “na­tional con­tracts” of 10 to 15 years for es­tab­lished authors. “It would de­fine lit­er­ary au­thor­ship as a vo­ca­tional art in the na­tional cul­ture, a role com­pa­ra­ble with that of tenured aca­demics, judges and se­nior pub­lic ser­vants.” Some­how I doubt there’s a vote-win­ner there.

Think­ing of his own ap­proach to mak­ing a liv­ing, Moor­house ad­mits there are times when ”look­ing at my bank ac­count … and know­ing that, af­ter 50 years of writ­ing, I am go­ing broke again … I do ques­tion my rules of liv­ing as a writer”. But he also thinks of the suc­cess­ful books, the awards, the films based on his work and “I feel priv­i­leged. I have been able to live the writ­ing life.” Last week I men­tioned loom­ing new nov­els from Booker Prize win­ners Peter Carey, Hi­lary Man­tel and Eleanor Cat­ton. That trio is not alone. Bri­tish writer Howard Ja­cob­son, who won the 2010 Booker for The Fin­kler Ques­tion, has a satir­i­cal novella due next month. It’s called Pussy. The main char­ac­ter is Prince Fra­cas­sus, who en­ters pol­i­tics to make the Repub­lic of Urbs-Ludus “great again”. He “has no man­ners, no cu­rios­ity and few words”. His par­ents con­sider him a “boast­ful dunce of would-be de­prav­ity”. They’d like to think he is not theirs at all, but for the tell­tale “cus­tard coloured hair”. Well, I for one was won­der­ing who on earth this book was about! Then I saw the cover, which is a car­toon of the US Pres­i­dent. He’s wear­ing a nappy. He’s sort of tod­dler-run­ning. He’s clutch­ing what looks like a Bar­bie doll.

I’ll read Pussy with in­ter­est, but I’m more ex­cited by this week’s an­nounce­ment that Richard Flanagan will in Oc­to­ber pub­lish his first novel since he won the 2014 Booker for A Nar­row Road to the Deep North. That mov­ing book looked at the past, the Thai-Burma Rail­way dur­ing World War II. The new one, First Per­son, con­sid­ers the pos­si­ble fu­ture. It cen­tres on re­al­ity TV pro­ducer Kif Kehlmann, who, when a young, broke writer, agreed to ghost­write the me­moir of con­man Ziggy Heidl. The book will con­sider the very na­ture of writ­ing. Is Kif rewrit­ing Ziggy’s life or is it the other way around? There’s a Trump tone too, with pub­lisher Pen­guin Ran­dom House sug­gest­ing, “If you want to know where al­ter­na­tive facts, fake iden­ti­ties and charis­matic char­la­tans might lead us all, this is the book to read.” Quote of the week: The St Lu­cian poet Derek Wal­cott, the 1992 No­bel lau­re­ate, died last week­end, aged 87. There is so much to choose from with him, such as his apt take on the fu­ture: It hap­pens “no mat­ter how much we scream”. But let’s go with a line from his No­bel lec­ture. It’s well-known but so beau­ti­ful: “Break a vase, and the love that re­assem­bles the frag­ments is stronger than that love which took its sym­me­try for granted when it was whole.”

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