It’s only taken me 35 years. Wake in Fright was a Year Eleven text. It was the one I didn’t read.
A new edition of the novel was published this year to coincide with the re-release of the 1971 film. You used to see the film because you read the book; today it's the other way around.
I had been in the garden. First I picked some spinach that the snails had somehow overlooked on their progressive dinner through the garden. How could they? I thought they ate everything, like Jeffrey Steingarten. I must remember to lay some snail bait. Then I picked some parsley from the wave of green spreading up the sideway that looks like being even bigger than last year's massive crop. Then some rosemary, thyme and oregano and inside to throw the herbs into a huge pot of lamb stew - Irish-style, but with additions - that was bubbling away on the stove. The spinach would wilt into a tablespoonful of cream, a clove of garlic and plenty of pepper later, to accompany.
Then back to the book.
A sense of brooding menace runs through the pages of Wake in Fright like a seam of fool’s gold in a quartz reef. Thanks to his own pigheadedness, John Grant cannot escape an isolated and hostile outback town. A reluctant teacher in Tiboonda – ‘a variation of hell’ - he throws an unexpected windfall away in a kind of existential surrender to fate. Trapped, he embarks - in a dramatic, drawn-out scene - on a drinking spree culminating in a failed physical encounter and humiliation. Later, he is unable to recall the details and he progressively spirals into utter personal degradation.
Hold it right there.
I was halfway through the book. That brooding sense was crawling up my spine. Not of menace, but of some half-remembered thing. There was something familiar about this book.
I had met John Grant before.