Watching the World End at Byron
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?
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.