GOING OUT BACKWARDS: A GRAFTON EVEREST ADVENTURE
By Ross Fitzgerald & Ian McFadyen
Hybrid Publishers 2015
RRP – $26.9 pb
Reviewed by Gerard Henderson
Barry Humphries has described Grafton Everest as “a wonderful creation” in the same ranks as Philip Roth’s Portnoy and Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim.
Dr Everest (for a doctor he is) makes a welcome return in Going Out Backwards: A Grafton Everest Adventure. This is the fifth appearance by Professor (for a professor he also is) Grafton in print. On this occasion via the combined work of Ross Fitzgerald (the Sydney-based Emeritus Professor of History and Politics at Griffith University) and the Brisbane-based writer/actor/director/comedian Ian McFadyen (who is best known as the creator of The Comedy Company).
Going Out Backwards should contain a “Beware: This Book May Offend” warning. In the sensitive age in which we live, the combined comedic talents of Fitzgerald and McFadyen are likely to offend – in no particular order – nude artists, Tim Flannery, lesbians, pole-dancers, environmentalists, Terry O’Gorman, ABC female presenters who look like models, civil libertarians, inner-city crims, university vice-chancellors, group sex practitioners, trade union officials (especially of Scottish background), avant-garde painters, Annabel Crabb, Tony Jones, Maoist dressing leftists plus sandal wearers. And more besides – including eco-catastrophists. Plus those who are weight-challenged.
So who is your man Everest who is capable of being such an equal opportunity offender? Well Grafton Everest turned 60 on Christmas Day in (presumably) 2014. He wears a white Panama hat and sleeps in a Collingwood football jumper. A reformed alcoholic and non-reformed glutton, Everest suffers from anxiety. So much so that, before eating, he removes his jumper and puts it back on inside-out. That way, any food stains will be on the inside. Clever, eh?
Due to an anxiety/ obsessive condition, Grafton likes to “looks forwards [sic] (as Grafton’s old man used to say), a tradition Grafton has continued, to certain events – and structures his life accordingly.
Take sex, for example. Everest’s many past assignations have had undesired outcomes. He’s convinced that he so upset one paramour that she decided to become a lesbian – in this romp she turns up in the novel as prime minister. Other affairs resulted in litigation or the engagement of hit men. So Everest settled down with one woman – Janet – and settled for anxiety-free infrequent but regular sex every second Sunday afternoon as something to look forwards to.
It worked like this. Every 14 days, Janet would announce that she had just put a load of washing in the machine and might as well lie down until it had gone full cycle. This was Grafton’s invitation and opportunity – an event which gives new meaning to the phrase “having a tumble”.
As perceptive readers may have noticed, the above account is written in the past tense. You see, Everest suffered prostate cancer and the resultant operation, while technically successful, left him impotent. However, since Going Out Backwards is a farce, it comes as no surprise that, due to modern medicine, towards the end of the novel Everest takes a viagra-on-steroids substance after which he exhibits, er, a permanent interest in sex. No doubt we will find out for how long in the next book in the series – since Everest likes talking about himself.
In short, Professor/ Doctor Grafton Everest is an out-and-proud narcissist. It so happens that this condition gives him the ability to savour life while recognising its follies. Everest has attained the rank of “Emeritus Professor of Lifestyles and Wellbeing at the University of Mangoland”, a modern day tertiary institution which self-assesses its ranking and outsources its teaching to provide more time for developing – yes, you’ve guessed it – a corporate plan. The University of Mangoland has retained its course in Gay and Lesbian Mathematics. Other extant courses include Peace Studies, Apocalypse Studies, Non-Western Medicine, Non-Invasive Agriculture and Future Genders.
A former female interest obtained a doctorate, plus a professorship, for undertaking “a one-woman avant-garde performance piece in the nude”. Moreover Grafton and Janet’s daughter, the 29 year old Lee-Anne, has a Ph.D. in Pole Dancing (Hons) from the Hugh Hefner University in Southern California. Well, at least Ph.Ds in pole dancing are qualified to climb poles. But what does a professor of lifestyles and wellbeing do? Except prepare for a role as a pro-vice chancellor.
In any event, without any planning, Grafton Everest finds himself elected to the Senate as an independent, per courtesy of one of those preference-whisperer operatives. The authors seem more familiar with the realities of universities and the media than they are with parliamentary politics. But Everest is able to use his status as holding the balance of power in the Senate – along with representatives of the Australian Beer Drinkers Party, the A-Gender Party, the Involuntary Euthanasia Party and Orgasm Party – to advance himself. He becomes quite a force, to be sure.
Everest’s attempt to reform universities goes off the rails. But he takes advantage of media opportunities. So Grafton appears on “Bathroom Cabinet”, where ABC presenter Yolanda Yabbie visits politicians at home to discuss their health and beauty requirements along with their medication. Ms Yabbie shows footage of politicians’ bathrooms. Sound familiar?
Everest also makes an appearance on the ABC TV’s QED program where the audience turns up with copies of The Guardian stuffed in their pockets and where the presenter Roger Smith is less a moderator than an excessively loquacious provocateur. Sound familiar?
Grafton, an obsessive with no friends, certainly knows who his enemies are. Namely, totalitarian inclined eco-catastrophists. The plot of Going Out Backwards is, well, complicated. So much so that it’s best read with a Gin & Tonic or, perhaps, two. Or perhaps more. Reforming alcoholics, like Everest, should eat lotsa dessert when reading, to increase their sugar load. Grafton worked out long ago that “desserts” is “stressed” spelt backwards. It’s not clear what this means – but, then, Professor Everest is neurotic.
The good news is that your man Everest saves his prime minister and his country – along with himself, his wash-a-lot wife and his poll-dancing daughter.
But the point of Professor/Doctor Grafton Everest’s return in Going Out Backwards is not to make sense but to engender laughs. In this endeavour, the authors have well and truly succeeded. This particular reviewer looks forwards to the return of your man Everest in a sixth outing.
Dr Gerard Henderson is executive director of The Sydney Institute, a columnist with the Weekend Australian and author (most recently) of Santamaria – A Most Unusual Man (MP 2015)