Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The girl who turns into a leopard

Yesterday a friend dropped off several boxes of books. "If you don't like them, take them to the op shop or give them to folk, or burn them," he said. "They have to get out of my house."

Most of the books were novels by writers I'd heard of and not particularly interested in but one I picked up. "David Ireland," I said, picking up A Woman of the Future. "Oh, I'd like to read this."

David Ireland has interested me since I read The Glass Canoe, a novel about the hard drinking patriots at the Southern Cross Hotel, set somewhere in western Sydney. It is Wake in Fright without the outback. The book ends with a bar fight so nasty that it shits all over any Pulp Fiction scene. It's a book of short anecdotes, of bad folk and exploding beer kegs. It is so brilliant in its bad boy genius that I was beguiled and won over by this Australian Bukowski.

David Ireland won three Miles Franklins, for A Woman of the Future, The Glass Canoe and The Unknown Industrial Prisoner. Ever heard of him? No? Publishers rejected his further work, including the manuscript 'Desire' which was described as an "American Psycho without the music and fashion and restaurants." Desire was deigned so dark and dysfunctional that one publisher said it should never see the light of day. And it didn't. Ireland disappeared from the Australian literary scene soon after that, even though he continued to write. It seemed that his own peculiar genre ceased to be a  genre just as fast as it became one.

Last night I read A Woman of the Future (1979) and walked around today courtesy of Ireland's fugue. It is about a girl who turns into a leopard. Or it is about a girl. Imagine a novel that is narrated by a girl, her most intimate experiences written by a fifty year old man. Somehow he hails her as a young woman/child. He describes her conception, her childhood, her school mates and her drugged gang rape in psychedelic detail, as her. He describes her being bought and sold and being in love, her predatory behaviour and how a singular touch shocked her into love against a post and rail fence. He describes how fast she can run and how strong she is. She wipes out her peers accidentally because she doesn't know her strength. She doesn't even know how smart she is until her marks come in. He does all this in the female first person. It strikes me that this is a father writing for his feral daughter. This is one of the most confronting and annoying novels I have ever read and that is why it is so fucking good.

The epilogue really got me. I could just see Ireland finishing off this book. I really envy him. I wish I invented Alethea the leopard:

Alethea Hunt, with 490 marks out of a possible 500 in the final High School examinations, was placed second in the state to a male student with 491.
She was at her family home when notification of this result was received from the Education authorities.
Several days later, she left with food supplies in her small car and drove toward the mountains, apparently headed past them toward the western plains. Civil authorities broadcast appeals to the public not to shoot at animals of unfamiliar or exotic species. To the date of publication of this book the car has not been found, nor has Alethea Hunt been sighted. In addition there have been no complaints from farmers, graziers or cattlemen in regard to depredations on flocks, herds or poultry.
Mr. Hunt has offered a reward of one hundred thousand dollars if Alethea Hunt, or a female leopard, is captured painlessly and without injury.

David Ireland, A Woman of the Future, Allen Lane,  Melbourne, 1979.


  1. Here is a great article about Ireland and what he is up to now.

  2. If I were David Ireland and that had happened to me. Then I would employ a pseudonym and continue writing - wouldn't you ?

    1. I agree Mr Heron. That's what I would do. I'd write under a female pseudonym - maybe he would get away with it then. A bit of gender inequality going on there maybe.

  3. Ohh. I dunno Mr Heron.
    Can it happen to you? Being an adolescent female?

    1. Well I one of my poems - Me and Greg was written without any conscious thought from the feminine perspective and it was a female friend who pointed it out to me months later !
      If you dig back through my poetry blog you'll find it there....

  4. Wow, and yes, of course it can happen to a bloke. Just as being a boy/male can happen to a female. (I'll share some of my own 'male' fantasies in private Sarah Toa) Of course there is a perfectly good explanation for that, which I won't bore you with here. David Ireland sounds like my kinda guy.

  5. He is an amazing writer. This book is astounding. In some ways, I think of it as a feminist novel.
    Like I said, he continued writing but his work kept getting rejected. It's as though that raw, muscular form and content (the kind I really like) just went out of fashion. Or perhaps what he wrote later really wasn't much good. Or perhaps he is really Kate Grenville. Mmmm
    I agree that it is possible to channel the other sex into art, I'm not disputing that. It's just that he does it so well that it is discomforting.

    If you want to give an aging, out-of-work Australian writer a bit of a boost, you could always buy his books. Text Classics have just republished The Glass Canoe and A Woman of the Future.

  6. He must just be an evolved human being then, having reconciled his feminine and masculine selves. I'd reckon his sort or work would never really be in fashion - too difficult for most people to negotiate this sort of thing. Hey, there's a thesis in that - David Ireland is really Kate Grenville....

    I will check out his books.

  7. Great post Sarah. I have circled The Glass Canoe (new Text reprint) and now will buy, and also keen to read this one too. I like muscular writing too. Does his age and Grenville's match up?