The Dizzying Heights
Ross Fitzgerald and Ian McFadyen
ISBN No: 978-1-925736-30-4
Hybrid Publishing : Melbourne
pp. 248, $24.99.
Review by Richard Laidlaw
It’s plainly very difficult being a political satirist these days, when the politicians seem to have cornered the market themselves and to have requisitioned all the best scripts, in the national interest, naturally. No matter. Those with the wit and the will to soldier on will scribble regardless. Someone will get a laugh, or a wry smile, or perhaps break down and sob uncontrollably at the hopelessness of it all, and give us all a giggle.
So it is with the indefatigable academic Ross Fitzgerald, teamed again with writer and actor Ian McFadyen, who has brought us a welcome glimpse of light from the heavens in the shape of ‘The Dizzying Heights’, the seventh book in the Grafton Everest saga. Fitzgerald and McFadyen have penned an engaging yarn. By dint of supreme effort it manages – just, perhaps, and by the narrowest of squeaks in the view of some – to stay ahead of the tsunami of paradox and parody that threatens to submerge the embattled remnants of western liberal tradition and its totemic universal democracy with it.
As those who are familiar with his life and works know, Everest earned his stripes in the challenged academic environment of Mangoland. That alone is worth some sort of medal, surely? It’s not quite Texas (there are fewer assault rifles at large in the community for one thing) and is actually three times bigger and hosts a small town called Texas; but it’s certainly a place of wide-brimmed hats and a colourful antipathy to learning. To many, of course, that’s a plus. After all, as such people and their political or genetic descendants like to remind themselves, relatively few café latte liberationists or chardonnay socialists avoided official molestation or escaped punitive vigilantism in Mangoland in the early culture wars.
Yet as Gangajang so ably reminded us in ‘Sounds of Silence’, its 1984 debut pop anthem:
Out on the patio we’d sit,
And the humidity we’d breathe,
We’d watch the lightning crack over canefields
Laugh and think, this is Australia.
The block is awkward – it faces west,
With long diagonals, sloping too.
And in the distance, through the heat haze,
In convoys of silence the cattle graze.
No one with any sense of what Australia really is, beyond the end of the freeway out of town, would fail to sense a frisson – even if only ever so slightly – at the visceral, olfactory images those words evoke. Except, of course, farcically fictional fantasy figures like Professor Dr Grafton Everest, whose life’s work as been to avoid labour of any sort, physical or cerebral.
Grafton Everest is too good to lose.
In his six previous memoirs of the moment, Everest has touched every marker on the academic orienteering course and stumbled over, or kicked aside, most of the witches’ hats and police line tapes that these days impede progress on the roads of life. There are many who show one or two of the behavioural traits that Everest himself exhibits in spades. We are very fortunate that he is a work of fiction, a figment simply of very fertile imagination. (He would shudder at the word “work,” perhaps in the manner, as Saki once wrote in another context, of an Italian greyhound on contemplating the approach of an ice age of which he personally disapproved.)
‘The Dizzying Heights’ is a rollicking read.
Fitzgerald and McFadyen keep up the frenetic pace of previous Everest misadventures, in this latest volume of his saga. It wraps up some loose ends and brings other streams of consciousness to some sort of conclusion. It looks at times like a final curtain, though perhaps we’re looking only at the first of a series of Melba-like farewell tours. The latter would be best. Everest is too good to lose.
In a way, he is something of a modern Stoic, albeit from the modernist Frank Spencer school that perfectly stitches together stoicism and farce; he too makes an art form of drawing uncountable numbers of impossibly tangled strings together and then wondering why the cat’s cradle won’t hold. It’s a safe bet that the Stoic’s stoic, Marcus Aurelius, did not have university luminary, premier of Mangoland, inaugural president of the Republic of Australia and nearly President of the United States Professor Dr Grafton Everest in mind when he jotted down his ‘Meditations’ two millennia ago.
‘The Dizzying Heights’ is a quick read, a rollicking one; you could easily knock it over on a rainy day, between lunch and dinner with time off for afternoon tea. It is perhaps even more unbelievable than its predecessors, but that’s one of the results of serial farce, and not simply in the framework of literature. Certainly in this slim volume the good doctor-professor rises to dizzying heights indeed. Some Americans, bless them, even try to adopt him as a presidential candidate. But enough of plot giveaways; read the book, it tells the story much better.
Richard Laidlaw, who nowadays divides his time between Western Australia and Indonesia, was for many years a journalist in Queensland, and later a political adviser, including for National Party Premier Rob Borbidge in 1996-98. He has a blog at 8degrees0flatitude.com.
Ross Fitzgerald & Ian McFadyen’s The Dizzying Heights is currently available from the publishers: https://www.hybridpublishers.com.au/