I’m Making a Mistake

Journal: 016

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I’m making a mistake. I’m driving 15 kms of dirt road back into Terry Hie Hie in preparation for contacting the owner of the other half of my load of (commercial not charity) hay from WA when he phones to say he is not “near Narrabri” as I had been instructed but some other place which turns out to be back behind me. I turn around, re-drive the 15 kms, down to walking pace through the herds of angus and herefords lining the road – calves never know which side to stand, crossing backwards and forwards at the last moment, before one of them inevitably trots down the road ahead of me – and another 10 not much more than a track really through heavily wooded hills, the western slopes of the Great Divide in northern NSW, along some bitumen, then up another dirt road in light rain now, between farms, turning and dropping into narrow creek crossings until Rick phones again to say he can see me coming over the hill and all I have to is turn hard right through the next narrow gate and cattle grid and come down the track to his hay shed.

All through this trip, the late call on Monday, loading in the northern wheatbelt on Tues, it has been assumed, Sam has demanded, that I be in Sydney to load Tolls parcel freight on Friday night. Notwithstanding that they left it too late Monday for me to load; that the destination was always Moree and not Tamworth as Sam was still claiming when he called to shout at me on Wednesday and Thursday; that I had two separate deliveries to farms in the backblocks, not one to a shed on the highway. Until late Friday, yesterday, the truck and trailer filthy with mud and straw, the operations manager and I agreed that I would load Saturday morning, take my 24 hour break, come home. I asked Rick, checked the map, headed for Tamworth and the New England Highway (map).

I’m making a mistake. Rick’s ‘most direct’ route through Upper Horton to the Bingara – Tamworth road has turned to gravel, the drizzle has turned to rain, the sun has set, and I am doing some serious hill climbing. I wish it was daylight, I’m sure the scenery is spectacular, my spotties are good but there is oncoming traffic and then where are the cows, the kangaroos, the next corner, the trees? I’m flat out at 60 (that’s 40 in American). After Upper Horton – whoever knew there was an Upper Horton? – a few houses and an RSL club in a river valley, at least the road is bitumen, though wet and unlined. Still, I’m in Tamworth more or less on schedule, though no idea where I am. A friendly taxi driver leads me round an impossible roundabout to avoid the city mall and out onto the highway.

Three hours later, at 9.30 western time (11.30pm local) I pull into the Wyong service centre for my 7 hour break, 90 minutes driving left, I’ll be at Tolls, Eastern Creek 8.00am on the dot. The phone beeps. The load is cancelled. I sleep.

I’m making a mistake. Not a big one, not becoming an owner driver, or buying this particular truck. I’m making (some) money, the truck is comfortable, powerful, reliable (it’s a Volvo!). Not even working for Sam, well not in the beginning, taking up Dragan’s offer got me started, but after the previous journal, when I was stuck in Brisbane for the weekend, I was stuck another 7 days as Sam loaded his own trucks ahead of me, then at the last minute, 7.30pm the following Friday, after I had told him I was planning to return to Perth empty and find new work, he came up with a load to Sydney and the ‘promise’ of an immediate load (Monday night) Sydney – Perth. I took it, dropped my trailers at Tolls, spent a pleasant weekend with friends in Bathurst. They fed me, took me to the movies (Spike Lee’s Blackkklansman) and I gave them MST’s Elizabeth Macarthur – second printing! – and McKinnon’s Storyland.

No, the real mistake I’m making, and taking three weeks just to do one Perth – Brisbane brings it home, is spending too long away from home, too long away from Ludmilla Agnes, from my children and grandchildren. If I was a single man, I would sell up, take loads as they came up, spending as much time as possible in FNQ, the NT, the north-west, a jobbing carrier, my home on my back. But I’m not a single man, I’m a family man, missing both the pleasures and responsibilities of family life. When I took this job I thought I would run mostly Perth-FNQ, for a year anyway until after Milly’s big trip to South America, as I did for Sam 16 years ago, but that’s not turning out, the work is different and so am I.

In the next couple of years Gee will have finished her PhD, accepted a job (in refugee welfare not geology) anywhere in the world, and I will have missed an opportunity, one I regret even now, every time Milly has the kids for the weekend, pancakes for Sunday breakfast, though I spend all my time there those infrequent times I’m home.

I’ve been offered new work out of Perth, to central South Australia and northern WA, perhaps half as far as I’m doing now, requiring I lease or buy my own trailers which was my plan eventually anyway. Sounds good on paper, the rates quoted are excellent, the only problem is I’m yet to determine the contractor’s ability to pay. We’ll see. I still have to drive, but I need to spend my breaks at home, to be more in charge of when and how I work.

This morning I’ve taken my truck to the truck wash. Not cheap! All the mud and road grime is gone, though the trailer, tautliner, still needs to be properly swept out before it’s usable again, Monday’s job. Right now I’m off to B2’s – public servant (ret.), chef, world traveller.

The Dinner - Herman Koch

Reviews by Emma/Book Around the Corner (here) and Kim/Reading Matters (here) reminded me that I had already listened to Koch’s The Dinner, in January, but completely forgotten it. On relistening this week, I didn’t think it as good as Dear Mr M (here) but I still think Koch is an interesting writer and admire him for trying different things with each work. The Dinner takes the form of one man’s (Paul Lohman) stream of consciousness during a restaurant meal with his wife, Claire, and his brother and his wife, Serge and Babette, to discuss what they are to do after their 15 year old sons have committed a crime which they may get away with.

I found Paul mostly boring and his descent into seeming madness unconvincing. My sympathies were with Serge, likely next Prime Minister of Holland, and the only one of the four to take a reasonable moral position. But no doubt it made for interesting discussions at book clubs.

For the trip home I have Garry Discher’s The Heat, after you let me know he is a crime fiction writer (after my review of his WWII internment novel) and The Dry by Jane Harper.

Recent audiobooks

Kim Harrison (F, USA), The Drafter (2015)
Herman Koch (M, Netherlands), The Dinner (2009)
Georgette Heyer (F, Eng), The Unkown Ajax (1959)
Tami Hoag (F, USA), Dust to Dust (2014)

Currently reading

Fanny Burney, Evelina (done and written up)

I have with me but am still undecided which to start/resume –
Mike McCormack, Solar Bones
Anita Heiss, Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia
Elizabeth Jenkins, Jane Austen
Daniel Cohn-Bendit, Obsolete Communism, The Left-Wing Alternative
Dale Spender, Mothers of the Novel

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Dear Mr M, Herman Koch

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I’m not an ignoramus when it comes to contemporary international literature, but just about, so was not aware of Koch nor his “International bestseller The Dinner” before listening to Dear Mr M last week. It’s an impressive work, my library had a hard copy, so here’s a review.

Herman Koch (1953 – ) is Dutch, has written 9 novels and according to Wikipedia he writes and acts in satirical movies and tv shows. The Dinner appears to have been made into separate Dutch, Italian and US movies, none of which I’ve seen. This novel, his eighth, published as Geachte heer M in 2014, was translated by Sam Garrett. Luke Daniels’ reading was excellent though his strong American accent took some getting used to.

Too many authors since postmodernism became fashionable have responded to Roland Barthes’ The Death of the Author (1967) by inserting themselves into their works, by writing about themselves writing about …, by conflating the work being read and the work within the work being read, and so on, all the time crying out “Look. Here I am. I’m not dead” [more’s the pity!]. Dear Mr M as you might have guessed, is such a work and all I can say is it’s very well done. And in any case is not as meta as some reviewers make out.

M is an ageing author, a decade older than Koch probably – I didn’t get the impression it’s a self-portrait, though it probably contains some self-mocking elements – whose best work is behind him. Still, he presses on, writing, giving talks and attending functions whose description adds a comedic element and probably earned him some enemies in what must be the relatively small Dutch literary establishment.

The protagonist, Herman, lives in the apartment below M. In a really effective bit of writing, the author uses the first person when Herman is talking or thinking about himself, the second person when Herman addresses his thoughts to M, and an omniscient third person when other characters are being observed. The most important of these are M himself; M’s young wife; Laura who was Herman’s girlfriend at school; and Jan Landzaat, a history teacher who disappears.

This disappearance leads to Dear Mr M being labelled as ‘mystery’ but I think that is a mistake, this is a literary novel whose subject is writing and being written about. M turns out to have been the author some years earlier of a bestselling ‘true crime’ novel based on the disappearance of Landzaat, in which he posits that the history teacher, who had been briefly Laura’s lover, was murdered by Herman and Laura when he called on them at a remote cottage owned by Laura’s parents, to persuade them (or himself) that he was no longer infatuated.

M is unaware that Herman, forty years later, is now his neighbour, in fact is not sufficiently aware of Herman to recognise him in the street, and is certainly not conscious that Herman is stalking him, or as it turns out, successfully stalking M’s wife to get closer to him.

Unlike most postmodern novels the novel which the author in the novel has written doesn’t become a second stream leaking into the first; instead, we return to the originals, Herman and Laura and their friends and teachers, on whom M’s novel was based and so gradually, and in parallel with Herman’s pursuit of M, we build up to and eventually pass beyond Landzaat’s disappearance.

There is a little joke which the author carries on about Landzaat’s name, based on zaat=seed=semen I think, though the Dutch word for seed seems to be not zaat but zaad. Not important I suppose, but having got this far I just had to look it up.

Herman eventually gets close enough to M to ‘interview’ him about his book. M says he believed the murder of the teacher was spontaneous, but that this wasn’t interesting enough for a work of fiction, so he made it premeditated.

But in your book the idea came up beforehand. And not just after the teacher came by the holiday home.
“It was difficult. I struggled with the motive. Or let me put it another way. I simply couldn’t believe that they would have done it just like that. And of course, just like that wasn’t interesting for a book. In dramatic terms. Dramatically speaking, a murder is better if it’s planned beforehand.”

It is an important factor in the denoument that Herman and his friend David get hold of a cheap 8mm movie camera and use it to make short films of pranks they play on others, including a teacher, and of Herman’s parents who are about to separate, which they edit together into a silent ‘movie’ titled ‘Life before Death’. Herman also films a teacher who has died at his desk and, later, Landzaat before he disappears.

This, the relationships of Herman and Laura and their friends, their antics at school and at Laura’s parents’ cottage, Laura’s seducing and soon after, dumping their history teacher to get Herman’s attention, the teacher’s falling apart, would have been an interesting story even without the metafictional elements. Herman’s pursuit of M (to what end I am even now not sure) and M’s day to day travails as an once-esteemed author, culminating in a fist fight between tuxedoed writing rivals at a gala night – shades of Denmark’s Nobel committee – take it up another notch. Highly recommended.

 

Herman Koch, Dear Mr M, first pub. asĀ Geachte heer M, 2014, translated by Sam Garrett, Picador, London, 2016. Audiobook: Brilliance Audio, read by Luke Daniels, 13 hours.