REDBACK by Howard Jacobson


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Here's more woolly British satire--though this one's set Down Under--from the author of Coming From Behind (1983) and Peeping Tom (1985). The fictional memoir of a self-described ""reactionary fascist hyena,"" this comic narrative charts his ""spiritual conversion""--an event hastened by a spider's bite. When a redback arachnid munches on Leon Forelock's much-discussed member, it forces him to reassess his life as a ""social malcontent."" Born in a dismal industrial town, Forelock set out on the road to reaction and priggery when his father took off with another woman shortly before Leon's ninth-birthday party. After a successful career at Cambridge (a double first in ""Moral Decencies""), this self-righteous twit is recruited by the CIA, posing as the ""Freedom Academy International,"" to become a sort of moral tutor to Australian spies. In the country ""full of gambolling indigenes,"" where his father now lives as well, Forelock joins the ""stormtroopers of slow change,"" a strange group of like-minded Aussies whose right-wing fulminations seldom jibe with their lives as adulterers and drunkards. Forelock's war with the loony left finds him editing Black Sail (""tile only Australian journal of ideas Major-General Idi Amin was said to read from cover to cover""); monitoring campus activism; keeping out unwelcome aliens; decoding the radical press; and leading the ""Campaign for a Cleaner Australia,"" an anti-smut group. An admittedly ""servile priest of the feminine persuasion,"" he shacks up with the synchronized swimming team of Vernie Redfern and Maroochi Ravesh--an eight-year union sundered when he beds his aging step-mum soon after his dad's death. This slangy catalogue of Forelock's misadventures sends up the past three decades of Australian politics and its peculiar manifestations on the left and right--for, at the end of this overly digressive tale, now-radicalized Forelock is unwanted by all as he trades in one kind of blather for another. There's lots of pointed humor in this otherwise pointless mess--in other words, clever to a fault.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1987
Publisher: Viking