THE ASCENT OF EVEREST (BOXED SET) by Ross Fitzgerald and Ian McFadyen 

Hybrid Publishers, 2024

ISBN. 9781922768278

RRP: $49.99 (PB)

Reviewed by Rocco Loiacono

 

 

 

The four novels of the satirical series concerning Professor Grafton Everest, a rambunctious, overweight, fictional academic written together by Ross Fitzgerald (emeritus professor of history and history) and Ian McFadyen (of the Comedy Company fame) have now been published as a boxed set so that readers can chart from start to finish the uproarious story of how this hapless, work-shy anti-hero made it from a provincial Australian university campus to the international corridors of power.

The authors have taken us over the last few years through Everest’s bumbling arrival on the national and then international stage. After his election to the Australian Senate in Going Out Backwards (2015), he then became President of the IRA (Inclusive Republic of Australia) in The Dizzying Heights (2019). The Lowest Depths (2021) saw Everest’s first foray into the United Nations, followed by Pandemonium (2023) which sees Everest appointed, “once again through no ability, effort or desire of his own, to the position of Secretary-General of the United Nations”, the first Australian to hold the office, thus reaching the pinnacle of his haphazard career.

In other words, the four novels tell us the story of someone who spectacularly and repeatedly failed upwards, which is how, let’s face it, most people in powerful positions in today’s crazy world get there, completely ill-equipped to lead. As we are told in Pandemonium, Everest “had long ago perfected the art of deliberately forgetting things. Throughout his life, he had been plagued by people who were wildly enthusiastic about projects which always, for some reason, involved him doing a lot of work. Luckily, he discovered, early in life, that if he procrastinated long enough they eventually forgot about the whole thing and moved onto some new inspiration.”

But we also see in these novels a case of “life imitating art” in more ways than one.

In Everest we see an individual who is repelled by the Marxist infiltration of universities. Indeed, in the Introduction to Going Out Backwards, we are told that “he likes lecturing but hates the university” given that he is constantly the target of complaints from Marxist student groups and extremist feminist activists.

In the same novel, our protagonist is sent to review the curriculum of his alma mater, the University of Mangoland and finds that all the subjects of the traditional humanities curriculum – History, Languages, Geography and Economics – have been relegated to a single faculty called “Legacy Studies”. In recent years, we have seen the role of humanities being increasingly diminished in Australian universities, with students being charged higher fees because humanities subjects are seen as “non-contributory” to our society and economy.

Everest’s election to the Senate, as described in Going Out Backwards, was chartered around the same time as candidates were seeing themselves unexpectedly elected to the Senate despite very low vote counts, thanks to “Preference Whispering”. As it turned out, Everest held the balance of power, with both major parties doing whatever they could to get his vote, not unlike what has happened in Senate or in state parliaments with upper houses.

As the authors tell us in the Epilogue (to the first novel), “the common factor in all his adventures is that Everest has no idea how he got into these perilous situations, nor what he is supposed to do, but somehow he not only survives but succeeds, abundantly”.

The Introduction included in this special edition boxed set of the four novels provides background to the Ascent of Everest in the form a Report of the IROGE (Inexplicable Rise of Everest) Inquiry, which works as a nice compendium of the other five Grafton Everest novels written by Fitzgerald prior to his collaboration with McFadyen.

It seems that our protagonist very early on was selected by a shady operative who went by the alias of “Lee Horton” of an organisation known as REDACTED. Members of this organisation worked as teachers in schools where they identified potential successors among the student body to ensure the organisation survived and thrived. A surveillance division of the organisation continued to monitor the candidates after they left school.

In their assessments of candidates, intellect, ambition, achievement, initiative, temperament and character were of primary interest. However, we are told that candidate Grafton Everest stands out as unusual since “even a cursory perusal of his file suggests that he failed on all the above criteria so spectacularly it was thought that his being listed in the first place must have been a clerical error. Even Horton admitted in his comments there were times where he wondered why he had chosen him”.

Even so, the Epilogue tells us that Horton had placed a large number of his protégés in important government positions. Everest ends up at Bowen University, which is seen as critical for REDACTED especially in view of that institution’s hosting of the Free Enterprise World Symposium to be attended by world leaders and transnational industrialists. From here, we are told how he manages to save the life of the Prince of Wales by falling from a helicopter on the Prince’s would-be assassin.

The Introduction also lets us in on Everest’s various sexual liaisons (thanks to Horton) and concludes with Everest’s election to the Queensland Parliament and eventual rise to become premier of the state. Our protagonist, though, is forced to relinquish the role after a matter of weeks due to the publication of the wide-ranging “Fitzgibbon Inquiry Report” exposing entrenched corruption at all levels of government.

Everest is relieved at this eventuality, though, since “he had realised that being Premier was an awful lot of work”. He retires from parliament and from lecturing in Lifestyle and Wellbeing at the University of Mangoland (which was not reluctant to see him go) to Sydney, hoping that he can live out a comfortable retirement.

The scene is thus set for the rise of Grafton Everest (a wonderful creation as the late, great Barry Humphries described him) in the four novels, full of uproarious comical twists and turns.

Dr Rocco Loiacono is a legal academic, writer and translator. He regularly contributes opinion pieces, specialising in politics, freedom and the rule of law, to The Daily Telegraph, The Herald Sun and The Australian.