Satirists Rejoice Aug 5, 2008
Finally, someone has written the Australian equivalent of Thackeray?s Vanity Fair, a novel that satirises just about every aspect of Australian society, from the Western Suburbs of Sydney to the rarefied world of media moguls; from the cult of murderous folk heroes like Ned Kelly to the scandalous conditions of modern-day detention centres.
The first two parts, in which Jasper and his father Martin Dean regale stories about their families, seem quirky and well-written, but still relatively innocuous, and don?t go far toward explaining what all the fuss is about. They?re good chapters, they?re interesting and far from dull, but they?re not sheer untrammelled genius. It?s at Part Three that things really get into full swing, at the point at which Jasper informs us:
?In the newspaper and television reports made immediately after my father?s death, much was made of the years of the early to mid-1990s, the period covering the worst excesses of his so-called insanity. Not only was this epoch notable for the arrival of Anouk Furlong (as she was known then) ? a woman who played no small part in provoking his mental collapse ? but this was the eventful slab of years that included strip clubs, mental asylums, plastic surgery, arrests, and what occurred when my father tried to hide our house.
?Here?s how it all happened:?
To write ?here?s how it all happened? is indeed rather unconventional and even cheeky, given that the book then goes on for another 418 pages (Australian edition). It?s the sort of thing one would normally expect before a few paragraphs of explanation.
Jasper Dean is the chief narrator, though his eccentric, disturbed father occasionally takes over. Martin is what might be called an amateur philosopher: big-talking, whimsical, impulsive, given to making long (very long) rambling speeches. Fortunately, he seems to be playing at being an amateur philosopher and seeing whether he can get away with it, rather than being a pretentious git ? which makes him bearable, and almost endearing. It?s as if he?s saying, ?Look at me, I?m a philosopher! You listen to all the other philosophers, so you have to listen to me too!? And he does actually have some shrewd observations to make about what?s most wrong with the world (see Chapter Two of Part Five for the full run-through). He may have a screw loose, but the rest of them are firmly in place.
His crazy career culminates in his plan to turn every Australian into a millionaire. Weird? No. In a world of Who Wants to be a Millionaire, and, even more deplorably, Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire, it?s the sort of media gimmick just moronic enough to be 100% credible. And of course it all goes horribly wrong, bring down upon Martin the collective hatred of the Australian nation (or at least those members of it who are into that sort of thing).
The book really is too big for any reviewer to give a full run-through of its plot, but if you stick with it right through to the end, you won?t regret it (unless you hate satire, in which case you shouldn?t start on it in the first place). Those first two parts, with their quirky stories, turn out to be essential component parts of the whole, and at the end prove crucial to the whole plot. And the rest is so good you?ll probably find yourself doing what I did, and turning down the corners of pages that contain jokes or words of wisdom so clever you know you?ll want to read them again.
Unless you find satire offensive, just go ahead and read it. In the meantime, you?re missing out on one of the most massive, beautifully vicious satirical novels that has ever been published.