What An Australian Tom Wolfe Would Say

Posted on Fri 05/18/2018 by

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By Andrew Bolt ~

The United States has lost the great Tom Wolfe, author of Bonfire of the Vanities. Roger Franklin wishes we’d had a Wolfe ourselves:

Suppose, just as an exercise in imagination, Wolfe’s scathing return of fire at fellow writers John Irving, Norman Mailer and John Updike had been delivered with Strine vowels, rather than the vestigal cadences of a voice raised and broke in Dixie. Transliterate — pardon the pun — that trio of critics, what Wolfe described as My Three Stooges, and you might substitute, say, Kate Grenville, Arnold Zable and Thomas Keneally

In the US it is different. When Wolfe set about the New Yorker ‘s revered eminences in his essay Little Mummies, he could get away with such an assault on a tug-your-forelock institution because the unsubsidised world of American publishing allowed a genius editor like Clay Felker, founder of New York magazine, to thrive on the strength of the reading public’s appreciation of his weekly wares, Wolfe being one of them. Decades later, The New Yorker has still not forgiven the man who took it to task with such acerbic gusto.

Here, well things are different — a tight and incestuous literary priesthood, if you will, of the mutually ordained. Rather than publishers taking their cues from the market, they take them from the grant-givers…

By local reckoning real authors write for other real authors. Thus do we get historical confections such as Kate Grenville’s The Secret River, which sticks doggedly to the approved dogma of black purity and white culpability. As Dr Jenny Stewart wrote in Quadrant, in fictionalising her guilt-edged “history” of the Hawkesbury, its settlers and Aborigines, Ms Grenville abandoned the fecund field of fact for victimology’s approved liturgy, thereby throwing away a much better and far more illuminating story of a not-quite-so-secret river’s personalities and events.

Ancient history, that, but what might an Australian Tom Wolfe have made from contemporary Australia’s white/black relations? We can assume he would produce a novel based on actual reporting, always Wolfe’s shtick, of the drunken, violent, child-abusing wretchedness of life in the long grass. There would be pen sketches of the enablers and excuse-makers whose pieties play no small part in keeping the victims of their cliched compassion forever on the outskirts of a white society we are tirelessly told can never entirely shed its inherited guilt. And, of course, Wolfe would play merry hell with careerists who do very well indeed by preaching from the state-subsidised pulpits of unimpeached, but far from unimpeachable, virtue. Make the acquaintance of the race-huckstering Reverend Bacon in Bonfire of the Vanities and you will get the idea what he might have done with any number of feted and fawned-upon Q&A guests.

But just try pitching the above synopsis to any large Australian publisher hooked into the grant mill, as all the major houses are. The reason for immediate rejection would go something like this: “You’ll never get a grant to write that sort of book and we won’t give you an advance. The book review editors will hate it. You won’t be invited to a writers’ festival or the First Tuesday Book Club. And finally, we’ll never get an Australia Council handout to promote it.” It’s a good lurk being a mainstream Australian publisher: the government pays your authors and your advertising bills.

Wolfe’s argument that fiction born of observation and realism trounces in terms of merit and value the neurasthenic navel-gazing of the anointed was laid out some years ago in the course of an extended conversation with William F. Buckley. It can be viewed via this link or the one below. What a pity both men are lost to us.

Andrew Bolt writes for the Herald Sun, Daily Telegraph, and The Advertiser and runs Australia’s most-read political blog. On week nights he hosts The Bolt Report on Sky News at 7pm and his Macquarie Radio show at 8pm with Steve Price.

Read more excellent articles from Andrew Bolt’s Blog . http://blogs.news.com.au/heraldsun/andrewbolt/