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Watching the World End at Byron

August 6, 2011

With the world economy teetering on the brink we might as well talk books in the spring sunshine at Byron.

Last night I launched John M Green’s Born to Run, a political thriller about the presidential ambitions of a rags-to-riches, hamburger-chain billionaire Isabel Diaz. Three serious notions about US politics get a work-over in the novel. The first is the Latinisation of America. Isabel has Latino ancestry and will become not merely the first woman president but the first Latina. Already 16 percent of the population, the Hispanics have been electing officials state, local and Federal, most notably Marco Rubio, the new Republican Senator from Florida who could be Romney’s running mate if Mitt gets the nomination.

The second theme is presidential succession. Here is a trivia question: who is president if the president resigns and the vice-presidency is vacant (as it has been many times)? Well, since 1947, it’s the Speaker and this is a clever part of John’s plot.

As is a reworking of the birther controversy around Obama. This is the third big element. To be president one must be a natural born citizen which means born in the US but also born subject to its jurisdiction. Born to a father who is a foreign diplomat based in the US – a Chilean in this case – disqualifies Isabel. Because her father is, as a diplomat, not subject to US jurisdiction. But in the final pages she becomes president. How?

With author John M Green and his daughter Alison

Read Born to Run.

Today I participated in a discussion on History Fact and Faction. Opportunity, as I saw it, to talk history and literature with Stephen Daisley, author of Traitor, a novel which won the Prime Minister’s Award, and which deals with a young soldier at Gallipoli court martialed for treason. Found myself invoking favorite themes from the American Civil War (Lincoln’s pardons for deserters) and James Joyce’s Ulysses (Leopold Bloom on love over hatred) as well as Tolstoy and Primo Levi, all touchstones of mine as you would know if you’ve picked up My Reading Life.

I was very impressed by Daisley who had served as an infantryman for five years as well as laborer, truck driver and bartender. I bought Traitor and got him to sign it.

He said he planted a tribute to Joyce’s Ulysses on his first page in this, his first novel. But he agreed with me that Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake is unreadable. Without it, according to Martin Amis, we might have had two more Ulysses. And a few more Portraits of the Artist and a few more Dubliners. A tragic self-indulgence by the creator of Leopold and Molly Bloom and Stephen Dedalus.

I challenged the big audience to plough into Ulysses with the help of the annotated guide I recommend in My Reading Life.

At lunchtime, up in the hills, we listened to Louis De Bernieres in conversation with Geordie Williamson, a sweeping view of the coast behind us.

Then in the afternoon spoke in a panel on satire chaired by Sydney lawyer Ian Robertson. Good fun.

A well-run Writers’ Festival although what the point is in having Phillip Adams interview John Pilger I don’t know. Like listening to Alan Jones in conversation with Tony Abbott. Should be grateful, I suppose, that David Hicks wasn’t squeezed into it. There could have been a very ecstasy of self-congratulation and deafening self-applause.

Want to hear another horror story? One of the local volunteers told us that at the last schoolies week one family sent their daughter and her friends to occupy a $7000 a week Byron Bay rental house with a limousine and driver to shuttle them around. No doubt Daddy Big Bucks who showered this largesse on his spoilt private school darling had a hand in the financial crisis of three years back which is having its second iteration as you read this.

Push the thought away. Back to talk books in the spring sun.

  1. Michael Mizzi permalink
    August 7, 2011 2:57 pm

    The Daddy Big Bucks syndrome is alive and well in Byron bay, a place which exemplifies the two tier economy we hear so much about. One example is aoyung man who goes to the local Steiner school and gets a cab home to Mullumbimby regulalrly, all paid for by dad. As someone who has holidayed here as a child and lived in and around the is area for many years I have seen the detrimtental effect that money has had on this place. From being a quiet affordable family holiday destination, Byron bay has now become the playgound for itnerant backpackers, who gladly accept low pay for the chance to remain here a little longer, and a money spinning bottomless trough for estate agents and property speculators. Amongst all this you have the endless pool of cheap labour gladly exploited by local “industry” which works on the notion that there is always someone else to fill the vacancy if a disgruntled employee decides to shift elsewhere. Having recently been a vicitm of this exploitation as a local cab driver, I have seen how this whole area has become a nice little earner for some but an economic trap for others. Most cab driver here are lucky to make $11-16 per hour for very long shifts, and that is before tax! I was the cab driver who spoke to you about my novel Bob and I wish we had time to discuss the nature of the local economy so I could have shared my insights with you. As a cab driver one gets to hear all sorts of things and one story I heard form a paaseneger who worked at Sunnybrand was how the local Sunnybrand chicken factory at Ewingsdale which has been sold to Inghams, is now firing old employess and hiring from the local japanese community and paying wages which are $10 per hour less than the older employees used to get! What was a $25 per hour job is now a $15 per hour job and I doubt if these workers will be covered by union awards or any otehr legal entitlements. I wonder if they even have the right to work here. Ingham s are also employing new cleaning contractors who have won the contract becasue they sue cold water to clean the chicken fat off the walls and floors, which makes me wonder if they are breaching hygiene laws? Anyway if your are interested I would love you to have a read at a few chapters of my book and tell me what you think.

  2. Anthony Porter permalink
    August 7, 2011 10:35 pm

    Joyce left Ireland and never returned; living in France and made very little from his writing for the obvious reasons you mentioned above. He lived off the largess of wealthy Parisians, and I believe had these art patrons not sponsored him we would have seen a far different outcome.

  3. August 8, 2011 7:04 pm

    I think, to be fair, this financial crisis is completely different to the one three years back. That one was about banks and their clients losing billions in real estate. This one is about uncertainty as to whether governments around the world are going to act with honour and distinction in the face of the fact that they have run up against what you correctly described as “debt and tax limits” in your Aug 5 post, or whether they are going to be silly enough to try to continue to delude their constituents with unrealistic expectations in order to win votes. The last one was about lack of integrity in the private sector. This one is about integrity, or the lack of it, amongst politicians.

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