Everyone’s a critic

flanagan seriousSerious author

Opinions are divided on Richard Flanagan’s The Long Road To The Deep North, lauded or loathed by people you might assume to have thought otherwise. Take the Prime Minister, for instance, whose observation that coal is cheap and burns nicely prompted the Man Booker winner to express his shame at being born in a country that could pick a leader like that! Yet Abbott put rancour aside, trumped the selection panel and ordered the $80,000 prize split with Steven Carroll’s A World of Other People, much to the annoyance of Quadrant‘s Les Murray, one of the five countermanded judges.

If Carroll cares as deeply for Aboriginal Literacy as does Flanagan, he probably won’t mind having $40,000 plucked from his pocket and donated to the cause. Of course we can’t know and admire the depth of Carroll’s commitments because, unlike his co-winner,  he has not paraded them over the cheese plates and coffee.

It is all very confusing. Who can believe that Gerard Henderson fancied Mike Carlton’s book as the best history! This is not at all the way these things are meant to play out. For that, look to the kabuki drama being staged by detractors of Hal G.P. Murray’s Australia’s Secret War. This is  unfolding in exact accordance with norm and form: The New Establishment anoints its champions, who lay out their case via the ABC, in the Fairfax press, The Monthly or whatever. The assault will usually focus on some petty deficiency or slight misstatement of fact,  the tactic being to distract attention from the unspeakable, in this case the undeniable fact that Australian unions, some unions, might just as well have been in Tokyo’s pay.

The latest report from the front has Colebatch and his book under kamikaze attack for allegedly mis-identifying a flight of missing warplanes. Seriously. Oh, and Mike Carlton is now claiming a POW he said never existed must have had his name mis-spelled by the War Memorial. Again, seriously.

That’s the way it works. The court jester capers on Twitter while one of his betters effects  an air of academic weariness and dismisses the offending work as beneath the consideration of serious people. This time it is Professor Peter Stanley who has scored that tweedy role, while the ABC’s Drum website, always obliging in these matters, has supplied the pulpit and several hundred “Tory-hating” commenters.

Stanley’s article is worth reading for this line alone (emphasis added): 

Journalist and author Mike Carlton, whose account of the Sydney-Emden fight was a contender for the Prime Minister’s prize but dipped out, has attacked Colebatch’s book as a ‘farrago‘, listing errors in detail.

Those errors “listed in detail’, Professor Stanley, would they include ex-POW William Sackville Monks, the man Carlton insists exists only as a mis-spelled name at the War Memorial? Listed in detail? Good Lord!

For what it’s worth, the London Review of Books, hardly a bastion of conservatism, shares Murray’s view of Flanagan’s work, summing up a scathing review thus:

The book was described as having gone through many drafts, with Flanagan using those that didn’t make it to ‘light the barbie’. I can’t help thinking this wasn’t the right one to spare.

For the full appraisal, follow the link below.


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