Matthew Condon’s latest book, The Trout Opera, was recently not listed for this year’s Miles Franklin Award. Thinking this odd, since it had received good reviews, and I wanted very much to read it, I figured I would read one of his earlier books to start with, and move my way up to his epic. And since I can’t read, I ordered the wrong book in. Fortunately, the one I did order, A Night at the Pink Poodle, turned out to be a pretty good read.
Icarus (real name unknown) is a man who has made himself on the Gold Coast, selling houses and apartments to the filthy rich, in a place that is unique in Australia. We see him grow into his success, find love, lose love, and battle with the rich to try and keep himself within something that doesn’t resemble bankruptcy. For, despite his position, he is remarkably down to earth and not ostentatious, enjoying the simple things in life. Like visiting his ageing parents in the suburbs. And dining at expensive restaurants, to keep up appearances.
This is a very Australian novel. No, wait. This is a very Gold Coast novel. Not that I live there, so I can’t really comment, though I feel that I might now be able to. For a place that is concerned about looking bright and glitzy, there is a lot happening just underneath that is anything but happy. Take, for example, the shifty janitor of the building in which Icarus lives. Turns out, he beats his Vietnamese wife, because he fought in Vietnam. Or perhaps the Texan businessman looking to buy an apartment who also enjoys tormenting his wife. A lot. All of these tales (for that’s what this book is, really, a collection of stories about Ick’s life – novel is so hard to define these days) show that there really is a seedy side to the Gold Coast, and the people who inhabit it.
Condon spends a lot of time talking about the tension between the appearances and the real, in both the relationships of Ick, and the landscape itself – the juxtaposition of the built-up shore fronts, and the leafy outer suburbs, where more normal characters, like his parents, and Tin Head live. He is, I think, not attempting to criticise the inner city. He simply shows it for what it is, and the drain that it can place on Ick, who finds himself retreating into the bush more and more often, despite his initial distaste for it. Though, in the end, he finds true love on the beach, so perhaps he arrives at the perfect mix.
Despite having very little to do with its title, A Night at the Pink Poodle is a good read. Not particularly long, and a bit disjointed, Ick’s life is interesting enough. You want to know what happens and, at the end of the day, that’s about all we can ask for. Bring on The Trout Opera, I say. Though before that, perhaps a look at Condon’s short story collections would be an interesting idea…