Sunday, May 12, 2013
a pie, meat sludge
At the back of this U.S. copy of The Broken Shore they've put a glossary to delineate chook, bludger, ambo, dill, and other words that don't seem to contain their own explanations, chicken not leading naturally to chook unless you know the path already, but there's no guide to the words like "big boss-woman" that look as if they explain themselves -- a sort of vague woman somewhere dictating policy, assumes the reader in the United States who has never heard of Christine Nixon because she is not local, and maybe some part of them decides with an instant reflex, see, political correctness, the author is throwing the words "boss-woman" in there because they think they need to be PC, this is so artificial -- feeling actively alienated by the presence of this totem -- and they flit too, over the significance of one character "eating a pie, meat sludge" not picturing the thing that the Australian reader probably pictures (they are not picturing it because such a pie does not exist in the United States in any kind of popular way, chicken pot pie being the closest, size-wise, but chicken pot pie is white cardboard in grey drench, not the sludge and slurry of the pie the character without doubt was eating in the brain of the author), which might even be a Four 'n' Twenty pie, specifically, as I mystically sensed it, in a cellophane packet, and behind that an atmosphere of meat pies, pies at the footy, pies in the hands of children, pie ads on the sides of shops, even the pie in Patrick White's The Eye of the Storm which I mentioned -- months ago, several posts, hell I bore myself -- one of the characters there eating a pie as well, also meat sludge -- not described with the word sludge but the meaning around the pie would have admitted that very word and Temple's word sludge would have accepted the scene in White's book, the character Basil eating some sort of mess and wiping all fingers on his foulard, though Temple's pie does not admit White's disgusted comparisons with deep filth, dirtiness, foulness, the humiliation of Basil's sister as her brother sits there with this lower-class thing -- all of this is alien to Temple's meat pie, even though the word "sludge" could have supplied a link if he had wanted to draw those conclusions and could even have been a reference if he had extended the idea there, paying some sort of homage to the meat pie in Eye of the Storm, the police officer in his Broken Shore eating a homage before he drops his packet in the bin and goes away to arrest a group of murder suspects.
The Patrick White foulness-idea here maybe having something to do with impurity in the Victorian police force, Temple being interested in that, but not in a White-way, which is high-strung, the prose spitting with its hands clenched and the nails digging into the palm. Temple is dry and tired with hardboiled crime novel tiredness, everybody corrupt, nobody trustworthy, or very few, maybe the swaggie-character in his shed.
The novel ends with extra stabs of betrayal thrown at the character to show that betrayal doesn't end just because the temporary case has ended; betrayal can lie low for years and erupt by chance, nothing is eternal but betrayal. None of White's ecstatic moments for Temple's characters, only relief when things don't go completely wrong, or the sound of a recorded opera on CD. "Callas, Bergonzi and Gobbi always helped."
Peter Temple's police officer with the meat pie could have been called Baz, for the sake of White's Basil, and Baz wipes his fingers afterwards on a paper tissue out of his shirt pocket (reference to the foulard); then the rest of the book would have to be reconfigured to admit this sort of reference, there would have to be more references (to cue us to this one) and a reason, in The Broken Shore, for that abrupt and weird reference to The Eye of the Storm to be useful; it would have to be a different book, but it is not a different book, and so the pie is as it is and not any other way, it is not a reference to Patrick White; even the tiniest element is singing in tune with the corpus, and not being all that it could be, which is the price it has to pay to be there at all.