A Conversation With My Country
Alan Duff wrote one of New Zealand’s most important books – Once Were Warriors. It’s not a particularly well written book. But its timing was crucial. It meant something. Since then he repeated the formula until no one cared, perfected the Old Man Yells At Cloud-persona of the truly entitled, right-wing newspaper columnist this country seems to love since they’re all – apparently – just saying what we think…and then he went broke over a failed career as a property developer.
He fled the country leaving unpaid bills – owing thousands to loads of suppliers and workers – and tried to write his way out of bankruptcy by producing middling novels effectively in hideout. His golf-club buddies offering borrowed accommodation.
All of this qualifies him to “take the temperature” of his country in what is ultimately a long-winded gas about his first books – mostly Warriors – and has all the humility (and humanity) of a Trump rally.
To pad out this inconsequential, misguided, tone-deaf ‘essay’ there are context-less, meaningless pull-quotes that fill whole pages and are so prosaic you should be baffled to know this wasn’t a vanity-publishing exercise.
As Duff boasts of his own success as a writer, again and again, this book has such empty-gesture page-filling pull-quotes as “The system can indeed be biased”, “Standards. Goals. Simple as that”, “Books saved me”, “Nor is government entirely to blame” and, er, “I could have killed her”. No joke. Those are all examples of lines that fill whole pages in this book. There’s about ten times that many.
Actually, what a fucking joke.
Oh yes, there’s also, “For about 30 years I’ve been having a conversation with this country”.
No one asked him to. No one is listening. And Duff makes it clear here that he is his own best and favourite audience. He quotes himself at length. Glosses over his failings and rams his success down our throats with the blunt force of a Jake Heke fist.
Quite how – or why – this book exists is a mystery. And all Duff seems to be saying, over and again, is LISTEN TO ME. I AM IMPORTANT. I HAVE THINGS TO SAY. I WAS SUCCESSFUL. I DID IT MYSELF.
His is the “I pulled myself up by my bootstraps” story delivered in an arrogant, angry, misguided rant. With the attached worry that if you don’t believe him, don’t care or don’t think it means anything he just might wrap those bootstraps around your neck and choke you out.
For all Duff’s aims to here “tell it like it is” all he seems to have managed is an obituary for his writing career. And shame on the publisher for thinking this book could mean anything. Asking Alan Duff to take the temperature of this country at this time is like asking John Key to reflect on essential New Zealand services and how far we have come and how he fixed everything (if you’ll pardon the pun).
The tone is all wrong. It’s amazing to me that the pitch wasn’t laughed out of the room.
I wasted my time on this so that you don’t have to.
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A Conversation With My Country