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.


  1. I think in the run up to the next Moomba, officers of the Victorian Police should publicly eat a number of different homage meals to Australian literature, starting with the pie in The Eye of the Storm, going through all the food in A House is Built and then where? I bet there's lots of food in Martin Boyd if one starts looking for it. Helen Garner tried to have fish and cabbage once but was vetoed by a French boyfriend in an essay. There are probably more pies in The Idea of Perfection and I wonder whether anyone eats goanna or something in The Secret River. I've read no Thea Astley but she has a pineapple in a title so the cops could start with that. Best steer clear of any Puberty Blues involvement. Do they eat at all in Henry Handel Richardson? What did they take to eat to the Picnic at Hanging Rock?

    1. You know, apart from "lunch" I have no idea. Sandwiches? At least they didn't vanish hungry. What did schoolgirls take on picnics in 1900? Cake? Cucumbers? I've done a quick scan through Richardson's Australia Felix and come across a few pieces of food, for example:

      "Here they made a substantial luncheon; and the odour of fried onions carried far and wide. Mahony paid his three shillings for a bottle of ale; but Purdy washed down the steak with cup after cup of richly sugared tea."

      Most of the time she says just, "they ate" without telling you what was on the plate: "John and Mahony lunched together in the surgery." Who else? Stead writes food. There's that grotesque dinner party in the middle of House of All Nations. Boyd I don't have on me but I remember characters of his sitting at a table. Murnane -- I've opened Velvet Waters and found a man buying fish and chips. "He had then travelled by train to the city of Melbourne and had eaten his fish and chips while travelling." Gertrude in Gertrude the Emigrant Girl "filled a basket with sandwiches and a bottle of cold tea." Has anyone written a book about the convicts in Tasmania who escaped and one member of the party ate the others? Somebody must have written about them. I know Weddings, Parties, Anything wrote a song.

      "And I said, right there’s another one, don’t you frown,
      Chew the meat and hold it down," and so on.

      I was flicking through Ada Cambridge's memoirs last week and she was pretty much fixed on food: what did they eat, where did they eat it, how much did it cost, and were the beds nice afterwards. Butter in Australia is good and cheap but you can't get Yarmouth bloaters for breakfast; they had to go home to England for bloaters but then England didn't have any bloaters and they had to eat broiled mackerel instead. So there might be food in her fiction.

      OK, here we are in her Humble Enterprise:

      "He walked into the breakfast-room of his little palace at Toorak, on a certain spring morning, and, having kissed his children and shaken hands with the governess, sat down to table and propped his newspaper before him. His wife, a smart young lady in a long-tailed lace-frilled gown, poured out his coffee, and his married daughter helped him to fish; for it was a rule of the house to save him all trouble of helping himself or others at this end of the day."

      Fish for breakfast, meat pies for lunch, cold tea in the middle and I don't know if the human flesh should be factored in or not -- the cops could go on eating all day.

    2. I am indebted to you as I do love reading about food - possibly in Gould's Book of Fish someone might eat someone. A lot of things washed over me as I made my way, feeling muddled, through that book. Does anyone eat anyone in Voss? I haven't read it. If it's really about Burke and Wills they should eat the local seed but not know how to prepare it. I came over to tell you there's a prog about Christina Stead on Radio National on Sunday and there will be a podcast, as I thought you might be interested. Here's the link:

    3. Oh by cracky I am downloading that right now.

      I don't remember anyone being eaten in Voss. Which doesn't mean that it didn't happen, just that it's been years since I read the book. The mother in The Vivisector wants to feed her little boy moist chocolates mouth-to-mouth -- I do remember that. Sam in The Man Who Loved wants to feed his children banana the same way. White likes squashy things, body-things, farts and wet lips (or very dry lips: contrast); he'd be an excellent author for very stylised literary food, food as a sign of something (physical degradation, prudishness, generosity), food surrounded by an aura, like that pie.

    4. Oh wait, the podcast hasn't happened yet, has it? All right, I am downloading that right now, but right now will be later.