The World Repair Video Game, David Ireland

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David Ireland (1927- ) had his first novel published in 1968. He put out five more, three of them Miles Franklin award winners, over the next dozen years –and one of those, The Unknown Industrial Prisoner (1971), is in my view a serious contender for Great Australian Novel – and kept going into the 80s, but his popularity was waning, and he has since had trouble getting published. Geordie Williamson writes that “the violence and misogyny that characterised Ireland’s earlier novels – such as The Glass Canoe (1976) and A Woman of the Future (1979)[My review], on which rested his reputation as a defiantly proletarian novelist who employed a feral version of literary modernism – began to erode his standing as intellectual fashions changed…”

Spoilers: The violence which is the ostensible subject of this novel is gradually revealed throughout and is intrinsic to any understanding of it.

So The World Repair Video Game (2015), published in Hobart by Island Magazine Inc, is an old man’s (ie. Ireland’s) cry of rage against fashionable opinions. His psychopath protagonist, 42 yo Kennard Stirling, whose first murder was as a schoolboy, has set himself the project of murdering slackers and incorporating their remains into the pathway he is building to the lookout on Big Hill on his 50 hectare, NSW south coast hobby farm.

A hammer blow in a night train. How I hate the sight of bodily organs, the insides that ought not be seen, the greasiness of blood and how good it feels to wash hands and arms and feel clean once more.

The novel takes the form of Stirling’s journal, interspersed with random thoughts generated by his subconscious (which he calls Pym after the Edgar Allan Poe novel). Ireland at one stage has Stirling reading Richard Brautigan, and his daily entries – from Sept 8 to Dec 21 – could be said to mimic Brautigan’s often very short chapters. The entries themselves are discursive, rather than formal, and inclined to head off at tangents, so the whole is very much stream of consciousness.

That said, not much happens. Stirling, who lives on a remittance from his wealthy Sydney-based family, is a volunteer four mornings a week in the nearby town of ‘Pacific Heights’ delivering meals and gardening for the elderly and so on, and otherwise spends his time regenerating bushland on his 50 hectares, that is, when he is not rendering down bodies and incorporating them into wet cement and compost.

My family Protestantism, alive when I was a child, suggested we are all free and equal, that power rests in the people, but now we know the sovereignty of the people is an unproductive joke, that democracy has few virtues and can’t take difficult steps in hard times and doesn’t reward courage.

Stirling is a loner, private-school educated and a once talented (rugby) footballer. As a refugee from the regimentation of the family business his “family” is now his kelpie-cross Jim, his ute Brian, a cat, and a majestic manna gum, Big Manna. He has had a girlfriend, or at least a love interest, at some stage, Leonora, “daughter of a judge, executive on a management team, retired footballer, weekend painter”, but she has left him, without word or backward glance.

His victims are recognisable by their slack and impoverished appearance, their dismissal of ‘reasonable’ proposals for work, and by the birds which sit on their heads and shit down their backs. They are clearly of the underclass. “The layer above is the working poor, the middle class is miles above”.

They are caricatures, never worked, never wanted to work, refusing to be tied down and experts at ‘claiming’. “This is a non-worker, healthy, uninjured. A non-cooperator, he consumes without producing, as Orwell says… He stinks of failure, stale and sour. He is less a prole and menial toiler and more a chiseller than a drudge, and lives on that edge where the crypto-criminal lives.”

… not far ahead I see a kookaburra riding on something. I get closer and see the bird is perched on the head of an angular man in Jesus sandals and unwashed Judas feet, a silver nostril ring, hairless chest, mauve shirt open to the navel, red tattoos and lemon shorts. He’s my man

I lost track of how many men are killed, six I think, five stabbed with his homemade stiletto and one upended and dropped on his head, all loaded onto Brian for the trip to the farm, then boned and rendered down.

The novel peters out with the completion of the path. The farm is sold. Stirling gets a terse note from Leonora. A new project beckons, eliminate those parasites at the other end of the pecking order, “not the many honest CEOs rewarded for performance, but the few among the top money people whose greedy domination in dysfunctional capital markets weakens the spirit of social fairness.”

Leonora, my light, how I treasured the twins Iphigenia and Chloe, and the potential of dear Clytie, and imagined Andromeda’s warmth. And didn’t tell you. Simply thinking your name creates music in me.

Forget what you have read, The World Repair Video Game is only incidentally a novel about serial killing. Ireland’s concern is politics, the gaming of the welfare system, the shortcomings of socialism, the restrictions political correctness imposes on a right-wing misogynist loner. I can’t agree with him, but at 88 he remains a brilliant writer.

 

David Ireland, The World Repair Video Game, Island Magazine Inc, Hobart, 2015. Afterword by Geordie Williamson

Kindly loaned to me by Lisa at ANZLL, her review here.

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A Woman of the Future, David Ireland

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In the 1970s I was sure that David Ireland (b.1927) would be the writer of his generation, a mantle now surely held by Peter Carey despite how much I have disliked his writing since he moved to New York to be a ‘world writer’. I have said before that I regard Ireland’s The Unknown Industrial Prisoner (1971) as one of our great novels, and I also very much admired The Flesheaters (1972) and The Glass Canoe (1976).

 A Woman of the Future (1979), when I first read it many years ago, seemed modern and exciting, and not just to me, it won the 1979 Miles Franklin Award. But it now appears, to be frank, horrible, with elements of exploitation, paedophilia and incest. Nevertheless, it is probably the first attempt by any Australian writer to imagine an explicitly post-sexual revolution future.

Ireland portrays an independent (adolescent) woman in a near future following both the sexual revolution and an unexplained catastrophe which has left the bulk of the population, the ‘frees’, subject to weird mutations, so that access to the privileged classes is governed both by year 12 examinations and by freedom from ‘growths’. The novel takes the form of notes “left behind” by Althea Hunt during her school years in suburban Sydney.

Ireland takes great care to make Althea the strongest, fastest and cleverest of her class, of the boys as well as the girls, but, as she enters adolescence, what the author attempts to pass off as her independence and sexual insouciance is often the most degrading subjugation to the dominant males. At various times when her father is drunk and/or asleep she experimentally handles his penis, plays with it, sucks it, invaginates him and brings him to ejaculation; in year 8 she goes down to the quarry and a boy takes her because “you know it’s got to be some time, well, this is it”; at the beginning of year 9 this boy sells her to an older boy for $40. “… I took the view it was their private transaction. For me it was a passport to experience.” The quarry is the scene for group sex and multiple partners, where the older children feel it their duty (or privilege) to initiate the younger. At school, Althea is f***d by a sports master simply because she is the last girl left in the changing room after gymnastics; and she is soon taken regularly at the quarry by an older man, a local shopkeeper who takes the time to bring her to orgasm; she, and all women, routinely tolerate being ‘felt up’ in crowds, an echo perhaps of a time not so long gone when girls regularly submitted to over-affectionate ‘uncles’; as Althea says, “There was a great demand for our bodies. We girls didn’t put much value on what our bodies represented: they [boys] did that.” Finally, at a year 12 party she is raped/gangbanged while drunk or in a daze, “the eager young animals that had been at me”, she says. In the last few paragraphs she mutates into an animal, a panther, and escapes into the Blue Mountains.

I re-read this novel to see how it intersected with my idea of the Independent Woman, but from the perspective of the 2000s, the woman of David Ireland’s future turns out to be not so independent after all, or at least not in any way Miles Franklin or even Kylie Tennant would have understood, but just a compilation of all the author’s wet dreams.

 

David Ireland, A Woman of the Future, Penguin, Melbourne, 1979 (reissued in Text Classics)

Lisa at ANZLL struggles to like Ireland but her reviews of The Unknown Industrial Prisoner and The Glass Canoe are well worth reading.