Total Cardboard 2007
Once again Total Cardboard intervenes to rescue something brilliant from the lowest levels of literary anonymity and recirculate it slightly higher in the stratosphere. We predict that as bigger and bigger publishers pick up the ball this book will eventually be perenially located pride of place in Dymocks, Borders and Readings – right up there next to counter culture bibles like Catch 22.
Fosco Antonio, the narrator of this sprawling monologue, is an Italian “peasant-class” immigrant who hits Melbourne shores in the fifties. He goes to an extreme catholic school and suffers feather duster beatings by sexually frustrated nuns. From here he becomes a low-profile social activist, working as a telephone counsellor, showing up at anti-nuclear demonstrations and comforting the mentally damaged. His main task however is to thoughtfully observe world events and contemplate their symbolic flipside.
Of course Fosco goes through all this in anything but a chronological order. It reads like some kind of immense, flamboyant parable – like Henry Miller ranting at Italians on too much coffee. The prose is inconcise and longwinded, stressing significance by repeating whole sentences for example. He doesn't shy away from rhetorical questions, yet is equally ready to assert idle notions as imputable fact. And Fosco is always ready to return to a point dropped several pages ago, bringing it back into the discussion with an entirely different angle. Milan Kundera comes to mind.
Tone and style are probably his greatest acheivements, and he uses skillfully all sorts of ironic reversals. He brings out the truth by covering multiple points of view, and has a very attractive habit of being stubbornly contrary to things in general. There always seems to be some alternate interpretation of events that fortunately he can point out to us. He's like a zen prankster saying the opposite to what he really means.
His other great strength is his humility and frankness. He admits that he moves house thirty-five times in twenty-five years, and that women have always made fun of him. (We wish we could show you an example of his prose, but it takes whole pages to fully appreciate his style).
This is also the most charismatic look at modern Australian history just about ever. We usually accept that not much of signigicance has occurred in this country but Fosco puts us in the picture. He reveals the untold gravity behind Richie Benaud, Germaine Greer, and the last man hanged in 1967. A lot of younger readers will be warmed at his recollections of social change – especially the “Great Walk Out” from organized religion which anyone born after the 1960's can hardly imagine.
Some things seem a little strange – the use of Mundy as a fictional Australian PM is a good way to break up the plot but it is a little confusing. And what motive can there be for the title when the book is otherwise so coy? And is there some biblical significance in dividing the book into seven huge chunks named after the days of the week?
Fosco is an intellectual loner, watching the world from the safety of the One Star cafe. He's an urban ascetic, who considers Pope John the radical voice of the sixties and who pegs his philosophical ideas on an upside-down map. Fosco tells us this is not the Great Australian Novel, but he might be wrong.