BOOK REVIEW: GODS AND DEMONS A foreign correspondent’s memoir | Deborah Cassrels
It’s certainly not Scoop, and Deborah Cassrels is hardly Evelyn Waugh. But there are enough fanciful echoes of imagined distant drums in Cassrels’ book, and there’s sufficient colourful reportage, to prompt consideration of the demerits of figjamery.
According to the book cover, it is a foreign correspondent’s memoir that takes the reader behind the tourist veneer of Bali and greater Indonesia.
Well, blurb is blurb. The real mysteries and genuine delights of the archipelago will remain obscure. Little further illumination has been shone upon the 322 sheets between Cassrels’ hot covers. Indonesians, Balinese especially, will be glad that this is so. They quite like to be excluded from the glaring gaze of western impertinence, though they are very polite and rarely say so publicly.
Instead – though to give the narrative credit, it’s not all breathless – the reader is invited to a pastiche party: streams of consciousness stuck together with insubstantial vignettes. Going along for that ride is a bit like being an extra in Being There.
There’s a lot of personal stuff in the book too, as befits the modern fad for laundering your linen in public rather than keeping shtum. There’s not much appetite for discretion in the self-absorbed swamp that western civilisation has become. It gets in the way of Look at Me!
It may surprise some readers to hear that abandoned wives who have expatriated themselves to tropical places are apt to look for sexual frisson here and there. But not many, I fancy. What may surprise is that the author has laid out clues as to places and persons – writers’ festivals and good-looking authors with finely chiselled features, e.g. – to pique the inner voyeur.
It’s moot whether a journalist’s memoir of their time as a foreign correspondent is the right place for wink and nudge personal disclosures, if it’s designed to be taken seriously and isn’t just another I-was-wronged soliloquy.
Still, it was interesting to read Cassrels’ book because we share some of the history that is laid out within its pages. We both worked at Queensland Newspapers in Brisbane, for example, and for the same editor: Chris Mitchell. Though she was consort to Rupert’s princeling, which added some zest to our relationship.
When I returned to Brisbane in 1983 from three years away in Papua New Guinea and fronted up at the office canteen counter the lovely lady behind it smiled at me and said, “Oh hello! Have you been on holiday?” It’s nice to be missed without having to prompt. There’s something queasily ersatz about enforced recognition. As a question, “Do you know who I am?” holds the seeds of many destructions, including derision.
Cassrels and Mitchell were later arrivals in Brisbane, following the Murdoch takeover of Queensland Newspapers. It was clear to me that I was surplus to the Murdoch circus requirements to be implemented by Mitchell. And Mitchell’s assertion that I was astonishingly well paid (he wasn’t?) didn’t worry me. I’d had a fair run. I’d managed to stay out of the limelight (journalists are supposed to report the news, not make it) and had an iron in another fire that would glow a welcome red well before Mitchell might deem it necessary to don his Black Adder archbishop of Winchester suit and approach me from behind with his own.
And of course, a book should be read by people who don’t know the inside story. Cassrels writes with a light touch and in a way that engages the casual reader, who will be interested to discover what happened after she arrived in Bali in 2009 with a laptop computer and a business card.
FOOTNOTE: Cassrels appears at this year’s virtual Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, on Nov. 3, when she’ll be in conversation with Wayan Juniarta of The Jakarta Post. They’ll be discussing the challenges facing Indonesia, and her book. Visit ubudwritersfestival.com for the full 2020 UWRF experience.
GODS AND DEMONS Deborah Cassrels. HarperCollins. Published 2020. ISBN 978 0 7333 3890 8 (pbk) 978 1 4607 0913 9 (ebook)