Review of Ross Fitzgerald & Ian McFadyen, THE DIZZYING HEIGHTS, Hybrid Publishers: Melbourne, $24.99
Culture Club by Phil Brown
It’s not often that an author apologises for writing a book. Frankly I think there should be more of it, considering some of the dross which crosses my desk.
The apology in this case was by comedian and writer Ian McFadyen and was also on behalf of his co-author, the historian and author Professor Ross Fitzgerald.
They are the authors of the newly released novel ‘The Dizzying Heights’, the seventh in Fitzgerald’s landmark satirical series, a series born of his years in Queensland.
Fitzgerald is, as many will know, an historian of note and a political commentator who now lives in Sydney but remains an emeritus professor of history and politics at Griffith University.
But it was really Queensland that made Grafton Everest and he eventually became premier of Mangoland, the state which resembles Queensland just a bit too closely for comfort in his novels.
Grafton Everest has risen through the ranks book by book (He is now Professor Dr Grafton Everest) and in recent years has transcended academia to rule a state, hold the balance of power in the Australian Senate and now, god forbid, he has inadvertently become to the first president of an Australian Republic.
“I never imagined that he would do that,” Fitzgerald claims. But the point is he actually did imagine that – with help from McFadyen and now it has happened and apologies must be made.
Hence the letter I received from McFayden regretting “that Ross and I have churned out another book in the dreaded Grafton Everest series”. It was “lukewarm off the press” when McFayden, who lives at Narangbah with his wife Jo, dropped it in to the office for me to peruse.
“I am also including a second copy,” his accompanying note read. “Not only because I am anxious to rid myself of them as soon as possible, but in the hope that you may know a suitable person who might review the book, if you yourself cannot face the task”.
But the point is that I could face the task because it’s hilarious. Fitzgerald’s vision and McFayden’s comedy make perfect bedfellows.
“It’s been an utter joy and a bundle of laughs to work with Ian,” Fitzgerald says. “And it’s a good sign that we both laughed at each other’s ideas.”
Fitzgerald points out that there is a dearth of humour, satire in particular, in Australian letters although there is now a prize to foster it. …The Russell Prize for Humour Writing which is run biennially by the State Library of New South Wales.
Fitzgerald and McFadyen’s last Grafton Everest Book, ‘Going Out Backwards’, which was published in 2015 was short-listed for the Russell Prize in 2017.
Fitzgerald, 74, collaborated with Brisbane-based ABC radio announcer Antony Funnell on the previous book in the series, ‘So Far, So Good’ but is back with McFayden for the latest. McFadyen, 71, is best known for his days on TV with The Comedy Company. He famously satirised David Attenborough as David Rabbitborough. He’s a funny man and says writing satire is enjoyable.
“Although it is hard to keep up with reality,” McFayden says. “Reality keeps overtaking us so we need to publish quickly.”
In the age of Trump and Brexit, satire is very close to reality according to Fitzgerald who has sometimes been compared with his fictional character, a character Barry Humphries no less has described as “a wonderful creation”. Grafton Everest is a bit like Sir Les Patterson really. Is he anything like the good professor?
“Grafton Everest is what I could be if I let myself go,” Fitzgerald says.
Arts Editor – The Courier-Mail
Q-Weekend Magazine, The Courier-Mail, November 16-17, 2019