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Everest scales new heights

1 October 2011 839 views No Comment

Excess and success are one and the same for this ranting anti-hero.

“This is just the book to give to your sister – if she’s a loud, dirty, boozy girl.” wrote the Irish playwright and drunkard, Brendan Behan, of Irish novelist and fellow drunkard Flann O’Brien’s At Swim-Two-Birds (1939). The same might be said of Ross Fitzgerald and Trevor Jordan’s Fools’ Paradise (hereafter, ”Fitzgerald”, the joint authorship never being explained, though the two have co-authored A History of Alcohol in Australia).

The hero, or anti-hero, or protagonist of this novel is one Grafton Everest, PhD, non-drinker and professor of life skills and hospitality at the University of Mangoland, and commentator (from bed) every morning on Australia-wide breakfast television.

‘Fools’ Paradise’ begins benignly enough: ”’When you don’t sleep, you need a lot of rest,’ said Grafton Everest to his dog Tao.” But those who have followed Everest’s career – if that be the correct term for a life that has done little but career – since his first appearance in Fitzgerald’s 1986 novel, Pushed from the Wings, will not be deceived. That novel began: ”Grafton Everest examined his cock.” This sentence inflamed sisters less generous than those alluded to by Brendan Behan; indeed, it inflamed the whole sisterhood. Fitzgerald, not in the least abashed, began his second Everest novel: ”Grafton Everest examined his cock again.”

”Nothing succeeds like excess,” Oscar Wilde quipped, and that would seem to suit Fitzgerald’s satirical brush. That’s ”brush”, not ”blush”, for a blush would never mar Everest’s outraged and outrageous cheek.

Fitzgerald quotes Gore Vidal as an epigraph to chapter four: ”The Establishment may be immune to satire but the meat axe gets their attention.” Chapter five’s epigraph is from Frank Dalby Davison: ”You need a skin as thin as a cigarette paper to write a novel and the hide of an elephant to publish it.” Those two quips get Everest, not to mention Fitzgerald, to a ”T”. One of Everest’s colleagues sums him up thus: ”I don’t know, Grafton. You’re confused, venal, you give in to all temptations, you’re slothful, and a little greedy, but at least you’re sincere. In this ravenous, moonlight state there is no room for sincere and honest people.”

That is the ”moonlight state” of a couple of decades ago. Everest is embracing corruption to write a biography of former Mangoland premier Sir Otis Hoogstraden, who can only be the late Joh Bjelke-Petersen. Another prominent character is the eponymous founder of ”Marnie Miller’s Aussie Pride Party”, described thus: ”Asked what her policies were, the auburn-haired new-woman-on-the-block, dressed in a green Chanel suit, said, ‘I don’t know much about politics but I know what I like. People just can’t do the right thing to each other at the moment and there are too many deviant sexual practices coming into this country, along with infected fruit and vegetables.”’

Like her perfume, Marnie is surely redolent of the younger, emerging Pauline Hanson. There is a smell of mothballs about Fools’ Paradise.

Indeed, Everest is engaged in anti-feminist rants that seem distinctly to belong to an earlier decade. His vice-chancellor, a former, very former, girlfriend driven by Everest’s appalling male chauvinist-pig behaviour into sapphism, seems nothing so much as a mixture of Germaine Greer and Margret Roadknight, and who blackmails Everest into surrogate fatherhood with her, the v-c’s, girlfriend. Success in this venture will guarantee Everest’s department’s funding and viability. The plot may seem hysterical; it seems to resemble nothing so much as the path described in a trough of water by a lump of phosphorus.

The most incisive summation of Everest’s character, or lack thereof, is proffered by his wife: ”Where shall I start? Gluttony! Indolence! Sloth! As Janet was carefully enumerating his academic incompetence, chronic torpor, pathetic child-like need for media exposure and chocolate, naive hydraulic attitude to sex and, most alarmingly, his barely budding tendency to what seemed to be corruption, his beeper blared.”

Doubtless we have not heard the last of Everest. When the universities close down, perhaps he will, in forced retirement, emerge as the editor of Quadrant, for ranting is his forte.

FOOLS’ PARADISE
Ross Fitzgerald and Trevor Jordan
Arcadia, 233pp, $24.95
Sydney Morning Herald, Spectrum, October 1-2, 2011.