Dec 8, 2017

How it feels to be caricatured in Richard Flanagan’s new novel

Publisher Sandy Grant was caught a bit off guard when he found himself fictionalised in Flanagan’s new book, First Person.

Bhakthi Puvanenthiran and Sandy Grant

Associate editor / Publisher and co-founder of Hardie Grant.

The corrosion of truth in these strange times is terrifying.

–Richard Flanagan, The Guardian, March 20, 2017

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4 thoughts on “How it feels to be caricatured in Richard Flanagan’s new novel

  1. old greybearded one

    I read Narrow Road to the Deep North because of certain relatives and their fate. My birthday is also the anniversary of my uncle’s captivity by the Japanese in Singapore. I found it a moving, dark, difficult and compelling read. I am well versed in military history and the Dunlop legend. I never saw Dorrigo as a Weary Dunlop figure, Dunlop after all was a great and extraordinary man, but not the only brave one on the camps or the only medical officer who went beyond the call. Rather. I saw a conflict between the public and private man, and we all know one. Someone who will face anything, but is a philanderer, or a gambler. Good is not necessarily absolute, though it can be. Neither is bad. I have yet not read First Person, though I found the concept interesting. I have heard Flanagan speak about it a number of times. Were I to read it, I would not know who the “publisher” is. Flanagan, when I have heard him, has not done more than outline the rather unusual circumstances behind the original event. Once again, do we know what Bryce Courtenay was like well enough to make the link? Flanagan would be wrong to make too close a suggestion in reference to you, but is it you or an amalgam which includes you?

  2. Hugh (Charlie) McColl

    Maybe it would have helped if Flanagan had fictionalised Paley’s sex life. Then you would have known for sure that it wasn’t really about you. I read the Narrow Road . . and had no trouble seeing the narrative vehicle. Even though I knew there was a Weary Dunlop figure in the story and some of the wartime actions of that figure may have been similar to the real Dunlop’s, it never occurred to me that the ‘lothario’ was anything to do with Dunlop. I think Flanagan has so many human traits to deal with and serve up that he has to jam a few into every character. Surely there’s something about Paley (who I haven’t met yet) that is totally not you?

  3. Woopwoop

    I remember the news story on which RF’s latest is based. It’s recently been serialised on BBC Radio4. I listened for a while, then it got too dark for me.

  4. Alan Wearne

    the bewilderment and annoyance Sandy Grant finds in reading what I gather is a dull, unsubtle caricature of himself in Richard Flanagan’s ‘First Person’ is at once comic yet distressing, for the exercise sounds mightily malevolent. And yet, since well before Old Man Dickens was portrayed as Mr. Micawber (maybe the hallmark of all such in English language literature) writers have been ‘raiding’ ‘reality’ for characters, incidents and plot. Though with this rider: if without the ‘persons’ the ‘characters’ wouldn’t exist, still the final work is very much one of the imagination, of fiction.

    For example, in ‘These Things Are Real’, my latest book, I have five verse narratives all of which have people and events based on what I have seen or heard or heard about or read about. Yet the end product is in no way non-fiction or memoire.

    And then there must be those times when a writer’s friends are disappointed they weren’t portrayed, or other occasions in which an author stepping back from a completed (maybe long completed) work, can find themselves announcing ‘My god! I actually wrote about him! about her!’

    So yes, it is all part of a game and sometimes that game, as in the one under discussion, is very badly played. But ever since John Wren took on Frank Hardy and lost, a libel action from Sandy Grant would be laughable and he can hardly expect Flanagan to apologize. Yet as a publisher he does possess certain advantages and thus should commission a solid piece of fiction in which the protagonist (maybe even the narrator) is a self-promoting, multi-prizewinning novelist, attached to a Group of Eight University, with vapid opinions on just about the lot. I’m sure plenty of writers would line up for the task.



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