TEXT Review

Publish and also perish?

review by Nigel Krauth


Michael Wilding
National Treasure
Central Queensland University Press, Rockhampton, 2007
ISBN 1-921274-00-X
240pp. Pb. AUD26.95


In the wake of Academia Nuts (2002) - where Michael Wilding satirised Australian universities and the follies of their academic and administrative practices - the acclaimed author turns his scalpel-eye to the literary world, and particularly the world of fiction-writing in Australia.

Clearly reflecting several decades of insider knowledge of the pressurised life of the novelist, Wilding conjures up a brightly dark world of excess, inconsistency, jealousy, fraud and paranoia. What he reveals is wonderfully laughable, sadly appalling, and (worst of all) fully educative as he peels back the onion on writers, publishers, promoters and readerships.

In this study of the wild and woolly writing industry - the practice, the publishing, the promotion, the power-plays - the message comes through clearly for the besieged novelist: Publish or perish, or put up the perfectly impenetrable pretense.

The setting is Sydney. Pill-popping, put-upon, big-selling author, Scobie Spruce, is a recognised national treasure, but everyone is out to exploit him - the multinational publishing industry, the media, his own family, and even his new assistant, whom he employs in an attempt to shore up his fading reputation and income.

All the problems writers of fiction face these days are canvassed here. Majorly, these are problems of change. Corporations (e.g. those involved in publishing) handle change-culture through focus groups and symposia for their management staff and employees. But writers are loners: most are self-employed and work as ferals on cultural borderlines. It's on the borderline that the next world-shattering great novel will be found. Being so outlandish and ostracised, literary novelists are vulnerable.

This novel pokes fun at literary folly; gets serious about business and government and media exploitation and the dismantling of literature's value in the current context; but also reveals the tragedy of the personal plight of the creative writer in today's culture.

And there's a built-in guessing game. Spot the real writers the characters are based on! Disconcertingly, you can't nail down Wilding's generic characters to specific personalities - and the problem is clear. All novelists currently suffer from this kind of handling by publishers, all novelists' families have put up with this sort of behaviour from their novelist relatives, and all novelists have received this kind of family and public treatment.

National Treasure is a penetrating look at the world of fiction writing and publishing today.

Nigel Krauth teaches creative writing at Griffith University, Gold Coast.


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Vol 11 No 1 April 2007
Editors: Nigel Krauth & Jen Webb