I've been reading the author's promo for Jasper Jones, a 'young adult' novel that is apparently going to be mandatory reading at UC in the domestic version of Maynard Hutchins' 'Great Books' program at Chicago.
Author Craig Silvey will even be visiting the campus. Bryce Courtenay PhD (UC, 2012) is unavailable, having belatedly shuffled off to join Ethel M Dell, Owen Wister, Karl May, Ruby M Ayres and other literary giants.
Silvey informs us that
I had this insistent story buzzing with energy, but I was married to a sluggish behemoth that was burgeoning out of my grasp and gradually becoming more oblique in its scope and purpose. I had a decision to make: impulsively follow Jasper Jones down to his glade in the dead of night, or see this thing through which I instinctively knew wasn’t working. For a fastidious little man who stubbornly needs to shepherd things to their bitter end, the decision was a difficult one. But Jasper Jones was beckoning me all too urgently, and, like Charlie Bucktin, I followed Jasper through the town of Corrigan with trepidation. Fuelled by the guilt of shelving what was my second book, I embarked upon The-Year-Of-Getting-It-Done, a foetid haze of twelve hour days when I rarely saw sunlight, and sought every excuse to remain burrowed in my Quasimodo hovel of self-indulgence. Until eighteen months later, after Jasper Jones had gripped me so tightly in the beginning, I was finally prepared to let him go. I’ve always been attracted to Southern Gothic fiction. There’s something very warm and generous about those regional American writers like Twain and Lee and Capote, and it seemed to be a literary ilk that would lend itself well to the Australian condition. So I finished up with this strange little amalgam: a coming-of-age, regional mystery novel, stuffed inside a nervous little love story, garnished with family drama and adolescent escapism and anguish.To adopt Dorothy Parker's tart dismissal of Winnie The Pooh, this ungenerous reader thwowed up. The promo's perhaps parodying Capote on one of his more deliquescent days -
- this insistent story buzzing with energy
- I was married to a sluggish behemoth
- burgeoning out of my grasp and gradually becoming more oblique in its scope and purpose
- stubbornly needs to shepherd things to their bitter end, the decision was a difficult one
- Jasper Jones was beckoning me all too urgently
- Fuelled by the guilt of shelving what was my second book
- a foetid haze of twelve hour days when I rarely saw sunlight [can't have too much foetid haze, especially if you're channelling William Faulkner]
- remain burrowed in my Quasimodo hovel of self-indulgence [crusty old buffer that I am, wasn't Quasimodo famous for skylarking at Notre Dame - "the bells, the bells" - rather than consorting with wombats and rabbits in their burrows, foetid or otherwise?]
- after Jasper Jones had gripped me so tightly in the beginning, I was finally prepared to let him go. [Somewhere in the burrow Jasper's stopped gripping the author and the author's started gripping him, apparently. Sounds very Francis Bacon]
- it seemed to be a literary ilk that would lend itself well to the Australian condition
UC indicates that
- I finished up with this strange little amalgam: a coming-of-age, regional mystery novel, stuffed inside a nervous little love story, garnished with family drama and adolescent escapism and anguish. [then doused in balsamic vinegar, and with a fries and salad on the side?]
The book is required reading for all commencing students at the University of Canberra. A free copy of Jasper Jones will be provided to every commencing student regardless of their course, as well as all academic and professional staff at the university. The book will be available as a paperback or as an eBook. ...
[S]taff and students will love it. The book is required reading for all commencing students, and the themes and characters of the book will work their way into subjects, activities and campus life throughout 2013. We’ll even get a visit by the author, Craig Silvey, to hear about how he created this enthralling tale.My ungenerous comments about Great Books Lite has resulted in a sharp intake of breath on the part of one reader and a pointer by another to some tart comments on Mr Courtenay.
Earlier this year the SMH profiled Mr C, with Jane Cadzow commenting
Flicking through the newspaper files, my eye is caught by a snippet about Courtenay competing in the 1996 Boston marathon. According to the report, he realised 35 kilometres into the race that he wasn't as fit as he should have been. Deciding the best tactic was to hook up with another runner, he fell into step with someone nearby and discovered that he, too, was a writer. The pair chatted intermittently until crossing the finish line, at which point Courtenay asked his new friend's name. "Stephen King," the guy replied.
I contact the office of the master of the chiller-thriller to check the details of the story. The email from King's executive assistant, Marsha De Filippo, is short and surprising: "Stephen has never run in the Boston marathon."Oh dear. Let's move on. Cadzow continues -
it is still in my mind when I come across an account by Courtenay of how he came to migrate to Australia. "I was in a bar in Earls Court in London," he is quoted as saying, "and there was this unbelievably beautiful woman with a man you just knew was going to end up fat and bald. They were talking to each other about how Australia was a cultural desert that didn't appreciate their talent, which is why they'd come to the UK, and I was thinking, 'I don't have much talent, maybe that'd be okay for me.' Of course, it turned out they were Clive James and Germaine Greer."
The trouble is that Courtenay moved to Australia in 1958, several years before James and Greer went to England and became celebrated expatriates. Again, it could be an inconsequential error. Or it could be part of a pattern. ...And
As a late-summer storm brews outside his living-room window, Courtenay tells me a well-polished anecdote about the time the manufacturers of Mortein threatened to dump McCann Erickson, the agency that then employed him, because their insect spray wasn't selling. Summoned to the office for an emergency meeting, he spent the 20-minute taxi ride jotting the outline of a new campaign on the back of an envelope: "I said to the cab driver, 'What's your name?' He said, 'Louie.' And I wrote this thing about a fly."
Visitors to the Mortein website can view a TV ad starring a fly called Louie that dates from 1957, before Courtenay got his start in the industry. He cannot have invented the character, as he has long claimed, but he did play a significant part in the creation of the singing Louie that first appeared on our screens in 1962 and was still there, spreading disease with the greatest of ease, some five decades later. ...And
In the book, he says advertising industry heavyweight Sim Rubinsohn persuaded Gough Whitlam's government to introduce legislation that would permit parents to give their children transfusions at home, rather than having to rush back and forth to hospital. But talking to me, Courtenay takes credit for lobbying Whitlam himself: "One day I said to him, 'Gough, if ever you are prime minister, and I'm sure you are going to be, can you make sure that they allow home transfusions? He said, 'Bryce, I promise you.'"
In fact, home transfusions started in the 1970s at the instigation of doctors, says Henry Ekert, who at the time was director of clinical haematology at Melbourne's Royal Children's Hospital and head of Victoria's haemophilia treatment program. "We started home treatment without checking with Gough Whitlam or anybody else because it was not necessary to have legislation," Ekert says.And
... [H]e says he graduated as "one of the most applied and academically gifted children the school has seen". David Williams, the school's foundation director, looks up old college magazines and sends puzzling news: "The 1952 magazine lists the matriculants in the Transvaal Secondary School Certificate examination for the previous year - his name does not appear in that list."
After the email from Williams and my conversation with Anderson, I phone Courtenay. "Of course I won a scholarship," he says indignantly. His sister is wrong about other things, too: ... "My sister is a deeply religious, Pentecostal person," he says. "She gives her version of the truth. You have to decide."
When I mention his name's absence from the King Edward VII School matriculation list, there is a brief silence on the line. "I am astonished," Courtenay says. "But I can't say more than that." A couple of minutes later, he winds up the call.
"I don't want to say any more. Honestly, this is getting absurd. I mean, my life is an open book."He wasn't on oath, of course, but fiction is best left for the potboiler rather than the bio.