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Sunday, September 29, 2013

Book Recommendation: David Ireland The Glass Canoe. Text Publishing, Melbourne, 2012 (originally published 1976) 381 pages.

If you are interested in an Australian macho, non politically correct narrative from the pub scene in the mid 1970s this is a highly recommended book. David Ireland won his second of three Miles Franklin’s Awards with The Glass Canoe but subsequently vanished in influence during the 1980s and 1990s. The novel has long been out of print but in 2012 Text Classics of Melbourne has fortunately revived it.

The novel is set in western Sydney and written from the point of view of Lance, also known as Meat Man, because of the large size of his dick. During fights, he straps it to his leg, just below his knee. Much of the novel takes place in the Southern Cross Hotel where Meat is a regular drinker, fighter and fucker.

David Ireland was born in Lakemba in south-western Sydney and worked as a greenskeeper, factory hand and for an extended period of time in an oil refinery, before he became a full-time writer so he is not one of those highly educated blokes trying to fake it.

I don’t know whether Ireland was familiar with Charles Bukowski’s novels at the time, such as Post Office and Factotum, but he certainly adopts many of his methods. The structure of the novel consists of short, fragmented, loosely connected anecdotes. The emphasis is on sex and violence and although comparatively tame at first, Ireland gets more daring as the novel progresses. Meat loves his 'Darling' but is not adverse to ramming his stalk elsewhere.

The novel is written in a clear, colloquial, no-bullshit Australian way. The cast of credibly drawn characters is immense: The Great Lover, Danny, Shorty, the pub philosopher Alkey Jack, The King, Dog Man, Mick, the Russian Serge, Sibley- a PhD student who is researching the tribe’s lifestyle and many others give substance to this novel.

What enables this book to rise above the grot of  working class realities are Ireland’s many uplifting lyrical passages which help the reader see beyond “the mess” of a society  that "no one wants" and which no one can escape from.

This novel is a celebration of Australia's drinking culture. No matter how much society tries to bend the individual to conform, people will always want to get out of it, regardless of its costs.