September 17, 2004

A Fortunate Life

Rereading Bert Facey’s A Fortunate Life: being pulled up short by what I hadn’t remembered, the precise, stringent, powerful “there is no God” paragraph towards the end of the book. The certainty, the difference in tone from most of the rest of the book, the rage so many readers must have felt that after all his suffering, all his stoic travels through life, that he didn’t Believe like they probably assumed he must....

And what’s specifically Australian about the book? The obvious — the words, the setting, the laconic and stoic tone — but what else? Is it a powerfully Australian story in the sense that it could not have happened anywhere else, or that it reflects a unique Australian vision or national meta-narrative? It resonates powerfully with me, but I can’t help thinking large parts of it, even most of the narrative itself, could have been written by (or happened to) a contemporary American. Even the union (small “s”) socialism could come from America’s well-hidden past; is it just a story that happened in Australia?

(Nonetheless, it’s a great story, truly bloody moving; stands up there in my Australian Greats with Stan Arneil’s book on Changi and the railway...).


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