Top positive review
11 people found this helpful
on 4 December 2007
A very unusual, and in my own opinion absolutely absorbing, narrative by a writer of exceptional talent. Germaine Greer was driven (not to say well paid) to root out the secrets that underlay her father's strange personality. He had died when she was young, and in such time as they shared he had been putting up some sort of pose or front that she could never penetrate or fathom, then or later. He died in generally sound bodily health although suffering from some variety of degenerative brain disorder; but long before that set in it was obvious that there was something seriously not right with him.
Germaine Greer's search for her father's identity starts with the assumption, hardly an unreasonable one, that if she was going to find out anything about him she would at least find it indexed under `Greer'. Only when the truth finally dawns that even that is not so does the rest of the bizarre jigsaw at last fit together. Her search takes her across a great deal of the globe - Tasmania, mainland Oz, Italy, India, Malta and even fabled Cambridge. The general plan of the book seems fairly clear, and it appears to consist of hanging lengthy essays on a variety of subjects, sometimes only distantly related to the overall theme, on the main connecting cable of the narrative. The plan works not too badly by and large, but probably not as well as it ought to have. I'd say the book starts well and ends well - in fact it ends spectacularly well - and that is nine tenths of the battle. It is in some of the middle chapters that I sense a loss of concentration and focus. The successful and welcome digressions, for me, were those in which Dr Greer was advancing a strong and distinctive message of her own, say a feminist message or an environmental commentary. I found her interesting and convincing when discussing women's conditions in wartime Malta, but a lot less so when she was just being a run-of-the-mill general historian of that episode. I was very interested in her analytic social history of Tasmania, a matter she has something to say about, but I thought that her chapter at the Cambridge college high table wearing her doctoral gown and hobnobbing with the Master of this and Professor of that descended into twittering. Loss of concentration even shows through as bad proof-reading in these less than wonderful sequences: how about `If they are treated as a rabble by commanding officers who understand nothing of their background and make no attempt to put them in the picture they will be more prepared to kill him than to die for him' (p144) for instance? Or the Spitfire on p188 with `one engine aflame'? How many engines did this particular Spitfire have?
Nevertheless the author gets her formidable focus realigned as her investigations come to their remarkable and even exciting conclusion, all the better for the abortive findings, cleverly told and skilfully paced in the story-line, that precede it. Quite apart from the narrative aspects, there is some well observed and waspishly depicted detail of how people behave and systems operate. Australian information retrieval processes and Australian male dress-codes, whether accurate or parodied, are nothing if not memorable as described here. And there is more to it than criticism and fault-finding - there is a real heroine (aside from the narrator that is) in this narrative, one who could hardly have expected such an eloquent eulogist.
I am not myself at home with the vocabulary of self-discovery, but quite obviously this book is not exclusively or even principally some commercial enterprise undertaken turpis lucri gratia. Nor is it even mainly an intellectual exercise, still less a travelogue as I have seen suggested. The greatest gift that providence has given Germaine Greer is the formidable articulacy that enables her to cope with emotional shocks that would have choked many others through incapacity to verbalise them to themselves let alone to anyone else. As always, I find the personality that she projects to be immensely sympathetic and honest. I am in no position to claim that she tells it all to herself and to the world unflinchingly, indeed she must have endured but overcome some epic bouts of flinching. Nevertheless she has a fascinating tale to tell, but I feel unable to say in so many words that at the end of it she and we know her better, because one of the things we end up knowing is that she is not really Germaine Greer.