Galey’s Best Reads 2017 Part 1

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December 20, 2017 by brettdgale

The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

This was my standout book of the year and one of the greatest books I’ve read in the 15 years this books list has been going.  I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t read it an earlier stage of my life.  My review formed the centrepiece of the article I wrote back in January on the best dystopian fiction to prepare us for the Trumpocracy.  Little could even I suspect that we’d need a substance a lot stronger than books to help us through the weirdness that has since ensued.

People who’ve read this list over many years know my strong views on how TV or movie adaptions are more likely to detract from a novel’s impact than improve on it.  In that vein, despite being simultaneously creeped out and blown away by the recent TV adaption of Attwood’s novel I’m glad I read the book before I saw the show.  Now herewith the review for those who missed it earlier this year:

This novel might be the most relevant of all to the world inhabited by the Republicans’ complete control of Congress.  After all the only thing that unites the modern Republican Party is the animating ideal that they must control a woman’s body.  Hence the religious right held their nose and voted for Trump because of their singular obsession with controlling the Supreme Court and finally overthrowing Roe v Wade.  [ed note. Happily the defeat of the Alabama paedophile Roy Moore has set back Republican Senate control]

Attwood’s novel paints a picture of a completely gender segregated America where women are assigned various roles.  One of the most distressing jobs is that of “Handmaid”, one of the increasingly few fertile women who act as surrogate wombs for their de facto owner’s wives.

All this is possible because the future America (renamed Gilead) is ruled by a powerful elite utilising the real tactics of history’s most brutal dictatorial regimes and of course their trusty band of over-zealous true believers.

As Attwood herself as pointed out presciently in relation to The Handmaid’s Tale, “if you wanted to seize power in the US, abolish liberal democracy and set up a dictatorship, how would you go about it? What would be your cover story? It would not resemble any form of communism or socialism: those would be too unpopular. It might use the name of democracy as an excuse for abolishing liberal democracy”.

It is impossible to overpraise this novel. It is perfect on every level.

“Better never means better for everyone, it always means worse for some.” 

Lincoln in the Bardo – George Saunders

Another of my choices for my book of the year.  A well-deserved winner of this year’s Booker Prize.  Saunder’s daring style and stunningly original format make this short novel unlike anything I’ve ever read before.

Saunders has upended the novelistic form as we know it and done something truly extraordinary and ground breaking. However, while one can easily be swept away by the originality of the structure, the story itself is equally engrossing.

The action in the novel takes place over a single night in the cemetery where Abraham Lincoln has come to bury his young son Willie who has died at the height of the Civil War.  Historical legend has that following Willie’s death Lincoln returned to the cemetery several times to hold the body of the boy he once called, “too good for this earth”.  This fact as well as his knowledge of Tibetan Buddhism is the jumping off point for Saunder’s fascinating examination of grief and love.

A bardo is the place in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition where the transition from death to rebirth occurs – a sort of halfway house for the dead.  And in this particular bardo in Washington DC Willie becomes torn between those souls who suggest he depart to a happier place and those doomed to wander the bardo forever not quite believing they are dead and not wanting to relinquish the lives they have left behind.

In Saunder’s hands this premise has a fantastical, allegorical feel enlivened both with comic timing and a deep sensitivity.  It is a brilliant story, told brilliantly and unexpectedly.

This astonishing work of fiction is a must have for your summer reading list and a must have for your Christmas gift giving list.

The Symptahizer – Viet Thanh Nguyen

Anyone who has ever watched a documentary on the Vietnam War has seen the potent footage of U.S. military helicopters fleeing the fall of Saigon.  It is this striking imagery that this powerful book’s first major set piece evokes.  Nguyen’s descriptive prose is so vivid that the reader is thrust deep into the action as the last stalwarts of the falling regime and their desperate families scramble to get onto the last transports out of Saigon as the Communists sweep into town.

These magnificently rendered opening salvos set the tone for this gripping novel of dislocation and betrayal.

The novel tells the story of a nameless narrator known as “The Captain” a loyal adjutant to the head of the South Vietnamese secret police who also happens to be a spy for the new Communist government.  The story follows the Captain and the other South Vietnamese loyalists in their disorientation in adjusting both to civilian life and life as a refugee in a foreign country.  It follows the protagonists in their planned attempt to launch a counter insurgency to win back the country of their birth.

Along the way, the narrator also becomes an adviser to a self-absorbed larger than life (is there any other kind) Hollywood producer making a movie about the war (awesome parody of Francis Ford Coppola and the making of Apocalypse Now).

Further adding to the depth of the novel is the saga following the twists and turns in the decades’ long friendship of the Captain and his high school chums Bon and Man.

The narrator’s story is told by way of a written confession from the Captain to a mysterious figure known as “the commandant” which adds a sinister air to the feeling of disorientation pervasive throughout the novel.

­Nguyen, born in Vietnam but raised in the United States, brings a distinct perspective to the Vietnam War and its aftermath.  Indeed, the novel forces us to look at the aftermath of the Vietnam War from a different perspective.  The Sympathizer however is not just a historical riff, rather it is an intimate study of the duality of personality inherent in us all but here given manifest form in the guise of the narrator.

“I am a spy, a sleeper, a spook, a man of two faces. Perhaps not surprisingly, I am also a man of two minds,. . . able to see any issue from both sides. Sometimes I flatter myself that this is a talent.”

This is an excellent literary read which as The Guardian says, “can be read as a spy novel, a war novel, an immigrant novel, a novel of ideas, a political novel, a campus novel, a novel about the movies, and [even] a novel, about other novels”.

Station Eleven – Emily St John Mandel

Humans are infinitely fascinated by how the world will end.  Notions of the apocalypse and what will bring it about have dominated our storytelling since the first humanoid walked upright.  Over recent decades popular culture has tended to concentrate on three main ways the world will end – nuclear war, zombie apocalypse or wiped out by plague – each of which ebbs and flows in popularity as a literary device depending on what fears we have about our actual day-to-day existence.

In Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven plague is chosen as the preferred transmission method for the end of civilisation.   By avoiding roving hordes of zombies or post-nuclear wastelands, Mandel can concentrate on what the world is like 20 years on from the Apocalypse.  And taking the action so far into the future allows Mandel to examine how societies can rebuild in the face of adversity rather than how they fall apart.  She can contemplate what best of the modern world the survivors of the future would want to preserve.

In this sense, and in contrast to many other examples of the genre, Station Eleven holds a hopeful air.  The action centres on a travelling Shakespearean theater company and symphony orchestra touring small and fairly isolated communities in the Midwest. But it not just Shakespeare that people are holding onto, for a long forgotten comic book also plays a key role in the plot.  This brings extra resonance to the motto of the troop (stolen from a Star Trek Voyager episode) that “survival is insufficient”.

Mandel has written a well-paced and lively book containing characters with a depth that make the reader happy to emotionally invest.  It’s a great escapist book for reading in the hammock this summer.

Stroke of Genius – Gideon Haigh

Prior to the late 1980’s Australian beer consisted of Tooheys, XXXX, Reschs, Fosters or KB all of which tasted little better than industrialised dishwashing water.  Then along came a craft beer (since also industrialised) known as Hahn.  Never having really been a beer guy it wasn’t the quality of Hahn’s product (although it did taste better) that won me over but rather the nature of its advertising.

Like most alcohol advertising at the time it used sport as its hook.  However, not the feel good sporting images of the moment but rather an old sepia photo of a cricketer, a batsman in full stride, front leg thrust forward, bat behind him, a noble warrior in action, ready to smash the ball to the boundary.

The words underneath this striking portrait were equally as memorable as the image above – “What a beer tasted like when you could get a hundred before lunch”.

It was my first vision of Victor Trumper.

Victor Trumper the man for whom a stand at the SCG had been named. Victor Trumper the legend who in the opinion of many a long dead cricket writer was better than Bradman.

Ever since my first glimpse of that photo I have loved what I later learned was the most famous photo in all of cricket.  And then along came Gideon Haigh who has written an inspired book about an inspired photo.

This is a book about the saga of cricket, a biography of one of the earliest Australian sporting heroes, and a meditation on Australian society at the turn of the 20th century, but it’s also much more, it’s a book about the history of sports photography, the lingering effects of a potent image, and the powerful effects of myth and memory.

Gideon Haigh is the best current exponent of the craft of cricket writing and with Jumping Out he cements his place even further in the firmament of such greats as Cardus, Arlott, McGilvray, Roebuck and James.

The Trial – Franz Kafka

Somebody must have made a false accusation against Josef K., for he was arrested one morning without having done anything wrong”.   Thus, in the opening sentence of this intense and moving novel is the dilemma of Kafka’s nightmare vision explained.  In K’s continual fight against a system in which he will never be allowed to win, nor even to understand the rules of the game we find a parable for every incomprehensible struggle against the odds.

We probably live in a more Kafkaesque world today than ever before.  Faceless officials making arbitrary decisions, labyrinthine rules and regulations to get simple things done – and I’m not just talking about the state (as per Kafka’s analysis) but our wider interactions with all levels of society.  These are the methods and mores of our largest corporations and service providers not just government departments.

It seems that as more and more automation and mechanisation has replaced formerly straight forward tasks, the desire to create more and more elaborate rules and procedures to somehow show that humans are dominant – “let’s see a machine do this!”  As Exhibit A, I present the HR department of any large organisation – the ultimate Kafkaesque entity.

Despite all the advances in modern technology in every sense of the word there is a belief that living is harder, that having to navigate the maze of everyday life gets harder all the time – i.e. let’s take but one example, Apple arbitrarily removing songs from your music library with each new upgrade.  No wonder that below the surface most people are angry.  Of course angry people turn to simplistic solutions to solve their problems – “Make America Great Again”?

Oscar and Lucinda – Peter Carey

Oscar and Lucinda was really Peter Carey’s breakthrough book, and despite its complete Australianess, it was the one that propelled him into the ranks of international writers, and rightly so.   Carey has a delightful way of expressing his characters that makes them representatives of the world as well as the Antipodes. His language is full of joy in the greatness of life even in the books’ more sombre passages.

Stylistically he has literally created a page turner, with the book divided into 111 very short chapters.  The genius of said structure keeping the reader thoroughly engaged in the act of reading well into the night as you kid yourself that it’s only one more small chapter.

But what gives the book such power is the fact that Oscar and Lucinda are two of the most memorable personalities I’ve come across in my reading experience.

Oscar is a decidedly odd (nickname in fact “OddBod”) but engagingly loveable son of a fire-and-brimstone evangelical preacher.  Whilst at Oxford, ostensibly studying to become a man of the Lord himself, Oscar through a chance encounter becomes a chronic gambler (and a successful one at that).

Lucinda meanwhile has inherited a small fortune in ye olde Sydney town and blows most of it on buying a glassworks.  Over the course of the novel we learn that she too is an inveterate gambler, as if buying the glassworks itself doesn’t give that fact away.

And thus the scene is set for our two heroes to meet.  Interestingly for a love story, our two star-crossed lovers don’t actually meet until page 231 where they are eventually brought together by a shared passion for wagering on the long voyage from England to Australia.

And it is gambling that will bring about the novel’s dénouement.  Oscar believing that only by a huge gamble can he win Lucinda’s heart (which is actually a false assumption, because, unbeknownst to him he already has) bets Lucinda that he can transport a glass church to the outback and erect it on her behalf.

Thus the stakes are raised for an unforgettable conclusion.

Oscar and Lucinda is a fantastical fable about the intersection of love, religion and gambling.  Although ostensibly a historical novel Carey has actually created his own vividly realised fictional world populated with a cast of major and minor characters that gives Dickens a run for his money.

Killing Pablo: The inside story of the manhunt for the most powerful criminal in history – Mark Bowden

Pablo Escobar the world’s most famous drug lord and ruthless killer was for a brief time a member of the Colombian Parliament and once entertained thoughts of running for the Presidency.   It’s a truly extraordinary thing to contemplate.  Yet it is true.

I don’t usually go for true crime, but Bowden’s journalistic approach was captivating.  Escobar was the quintessential larger than life mass murderer and Bowden meticulously chronicles his rise and fall (in particular the involvement of the United States government in that fall).  Bowden’s research was clearly first rate, with access to restricted documents, transcripts of Escobar’s bugged phone conversations, and interviews with soldiers and government officials involved in the mission.

Yet the writing is never overshadowed by the research, indeed, for a non-fiction book Bowden has created a fast paced thriller that brings to three dimensional life not only Escobar and his henchmen and cronies, but those who were ranged against them.

What makes the story particularly compelling is the dark ambiguities and amoral choices involved in the campaign against Pablo.  One would dearly love to say this was an essential morality tale of good versus evil but as Bowden makes clear, the Colombian system was so corrupted and compromised by the drug barons that those pursuing Escobar and his men were often forced to become what they most despised in order to defeat them.

The Sellout – Paul Beatty

Good satire should make you feel uncomfortable.  And that’s certainly what Paul Beatty does in this, the first American novel to win the Booker Prize.  However, it’s not a bleak sledgehammer satire that inhabits these pages but a much more humorous examination of (pre-Trumpian) racial politics and mores.  To both cringe and laugh at the same time is the essence of good satire.  So if you are not feeling uncomfortable as you are laughing out loud reading this than there’s something wrong with you.

The protagonist of the novel, no first name, surname Me, nickname BonBon, lives in a Los Angeles community that is literally wiped off the map.  The State of California has decided that the town name of Dickens will no longer exist thus plunging its residents but particularly our chief protagonist into an existential crisis of identity.  On the misguided way to restoring a sense of community BonBon ends up reintroducing both slavery and segregation to Dickens and ending up in front of the Supreme Court for his troubles.

However one can’t really call this a straight forward narrative romp – it takes many a discursive turn and many a belly laugh as it calls out much of the bullshit and cant that masquerades as life in the modern world.

For instance here’s BonBon taking on the culture of offence;

“What does that mean, I’m offended […] It’s not even an emotion. What does being offended say about how you feel? No great theater director ever said to an actor, “Okay, this scene calls for some real emotion, now go out there and give me lots of offendedness!” […] If I’m sad, I cry. If I’m happy, I laugh. If I’m offended, what do I do, state in a clear and sober voice that I’m offended, then walk away in a huff so that I can write a letter to the mayor?”

Populated by a cast of characters for the ages The Sellout is a discomfiting, funny and arresting caricature for our times.

Jasper Jones – Craig Silvey

Craig Silvey’s coming of age story has been rightly been likened to an Australian “To Kill a Mockingbird”.  It’s hyperbole that’s not altogether inaccurate or unrealistic.  Quite deservedly the cleverness of this story has been recognised in a slew of both literary and reader’s choice awards.

Like its famous predecessor, Jasper Jones concerns the events of one long hot summer in a small country town and the impact those events have on the lives of those navigating the shoals of adolescence

It tells the story of young teenager Charlie Bucktin, woken in the middle of the night by someone he barely knows – the “so-called” town bad boy Jasper Jones.  Jasper begs for Charlie’s help and with that the two boys make a gruesome discovery that will plague their lives and those of everyone else in town for the rest of the summer.

It is a mystery to be solved but one that will reveal the dark underbelly of a small country town – its hidden secrets (the latent racism and the barely concealed alcoholism both of which could explode in violence at any time) and its slow unravelling.

Throughout the summer Charlie, Jasper, and Charlie’s best friend Jeffrey Lu test the limits of teenage friendship and explore the tormenting demands of teenage love.

Slivey has written a masterpiece with an eye for characterisation and an ear for crackling dialogue that make this a compelling page turning read.

The Princess Diarist: A sort of memoir – Carrie Fisher

Vale Carrie Fisher – space hero to little girls (and a not inconsiderable number of 1980’s teenage boys) everywhere.

There seems to me to be a rather inordinate out pouring of public grief whenever a celebrity dies.  Yet, when Carrie Fisher died to end that most horrible of horrible years, 2016 I could sense a little part of my youth slipping away. The same was true when I heard a few years before that Clarence Clemons from the E street band had also died.  It is the twinge of regret that the world as you know it is never static, but it is also that acknowledgement that a piece of something you loved will be no more, that the whole may no longer be the sum of its parts, it is a symbol of time slipping away from you.

And now having seen Carrie Fisher’s brilliant performance in Star Wars: The Last Jedi – a talent will be missed (personally though, I’ve also always had a soft spot for her bazooka wielding jilted lover in The Blues Brothers).

This poignant, witty and sardonic book mixes Fisher’s rueful and somewhat surprised reflections looking back after 40 years to her time on the set of the original Star Wars, with the actual diary entries of her then 19 year old self.

The book illustrates her grapples with fame, with the pressures of being categorised her whole life as Princess Leia, and of course the big reveal that she had an affair with Harrison Ford (married and 33 at the time) on the set of the movie.

With a new season of Star Wars upon us this book is worth a read.

Six Days of War: June 1967 and the making of the modern Middle East – Michael B Oren

It’s an indisputable fact that for its tiny geographic size (about as big as Tasmania) events in Israel tend to have a disproportionate impact on geo-politics and global media coverage.  However, the centrality of the Arab-Israeli conflict to the story of the modern world means that it is almost impossible to have a rational debate of events of the past (it’s pretty evident from even a cursory glance at modern means of communication that one shouldn’t even try for rationality on events of the present).

That’s why Michael B Oren’s fair-minded analysis of the Six Day War is such a revelation. It deliberately lacks the over wrought emotion prevalent in so much discussion of an ongoing fight that draws such fanatical passion on all sides.

While this book came out about a dozen years ago its analysis of the impact of events of half a century ago should be considered the definitive work on the topic.   As Foreign Affairs magazine said in its review, “He  [Oren] constructs a gripping account that sheds light not only on the tortured politics of the region but on the broader, troubling question of how politicians may find themselves drawn into a conflict that they have neither anticipated nor desired”.

No matter where you stand on the present status of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict it is always worth reading about its past in an attempt to get a greater understanding of the present.  For insight and analysis of why we are where we are this book should not be missed.

As I Lay Dying – William Faulkner

I’m not too proud to admit that I have tried to read various novels of Faulkner in the past and have failed miserably. Maybe I just wasn’t southern enough, but I was never able to fall into the cadence of the stories, the intricacies of the scattergun dialogue, or the rapidly changing points of view.  After reading As I Lay Dying I’m not sure I have discovered the secret to Faulkner but I found by simply persisting and letting the words flow over you like lying in the shallows, the story slowly formed a coherent whole.

A searing account of hardscrabble life in rural Mississippi As I Lay Dying traces the Bundren family as they embark on a rugged, days-long journey to bury the family matriarch.  From the father in search of a new set of false teeth, through to the daughter seeking an abortion, the story is told in 59 short sections each narrated by different characters in the story.  It is through their voices that we learn the essential truth about how the death of those closest to us affects us – it reveals both to ourselves and to those around us both the best and worst impulses of our true natures.

A hard but satisfying read.

The Odyssey – Homer

What better book to read on one’s own Greek journey than the granddaddy of all Greek adventures.  I only discovered this fact recently, that The Odyssey is the second oldest extant work of Western literature.   But in no way (at least in the translation I had) does it feel dated.

Short story of a long tale:  The Odyssey follows the homeward journey of the warrior hero Odysseus as he returns from the Trojan War.   Along the way he is beset by all manner of trial and tribulation populated by the characters (who thanks to Homer) we now know as the backbone of Greek myth – the goddess Athena, Polyphemus the Cyclops, the witch-goddess Circe, the deadly Sirens, and the sea monster Scylla.

There’s really not much more to say other than immerse yourself in a good translation if you don’t speak Ancient Greek (mine was by Stephen Mitchell) and enjoy the journey. There’s a very good reason why people still read this book after nearly 3000 years and you should too.

Zorba the Greek – Nikos Kazantzakis

“I hope for nothing, I fear nothing, I am free.” So runs the life maxim of Alexis Zorba the hero of Nikos Kazantzakis’ justly famous novel.  It’s a great sentiment but therein lies a problem, for that sentiment has coloured the lens through which Kazantzakis’ masterpiece has been received in the last 40 years.

Although written well before the 1970s embraced the cult of “finding oneself”, for many baby boomers Zorba the Greek was adopted as a shrine to the correct way to live, along with Jonathan Livingstone Seagull, or Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, as one of those books through which the essence of a happy existence is revealed within its pages (mostly by osmosis I think, as many a 1970’s bookshelf contained the aforementioned books with their spines never cracked open once).

That’s a shame really because Zorba is a much richer novel than one that gets lumped in with such seventies pap (as an aside, of course baby boomers can’t be the only ones blamed for their poor taste in books, witness many a middle aged Gen Xer’s obsession with the equally ridiculously execrable journeys of self-discovery books of our own time such as Eat, Pray, Love or Shantaram).

In short Zorba the Greek tells the story of an English writer on a journey to Crete to spend his small fortune on a mine and to learn to love the working man.  As he sits in a state of melancholy on the docks of Piraeus waiting for his journey to begin he meets a larger than life fellow who on an impulse he takes on as his companion.  Thus we are introduced to Alexis Zorba a man who lives every moment fully and without shame, whose attitude towards life is that it has to be lived to the full because you can’t do it when you’re dead. Of course that’s probably not a bad motto to live by.

But it’s not all light hearted. There is a darkness and a deliberate ignorance in the little village that the “Boss” and Zorba call home, and their stay on Crete is marred by a number of misfortunes, and in many senses, despite my reservations about how Zorba has been misinterpreted, it is actually a serious novel exploring deep themes of how humans should get along with each other.

A thoroughly enjoyable book, and then, there is the movie, the music, and the dance……

NW – Zadie Smith

This is a story about the old neighbourhood and the effects it will always have on one’s life. The novel takes its title from the NW postcode area in North-West London and in particular Wilesden and its Council Houses.  It investigates the lives of 4 people (Leah, Felix, Keisha (renamed Natalie) and Nathan) who grew up in impoverished government housing. Some of them have made the break and others haven’t, but all are drawn back to their personal histories by the power of their upbringing.  In one sense then this book is a clear statement on how impossible it is to outrun your past.

Leah is swindled out of £30 by a drug addict playing on her sentimentality for her old high school.  Felix is drawn back into his childhood by his father who has never left the estate and by a chance encounter with his ex- girlfriend.  Keisha, Leah’s best friend, who changes her name to Natalie to bolster her legal career and her career minded marriage, grows slowly disillusioned with the so-called successes of her life and ends up wandering the streets with Nathan an old school friend who one can safely say has been broken by his inability to escape the Caldwell Housing project.  By book’s end all four stories will collide in a tragic manner.

The book is written in a very modernist approach with shifts in both the narrative style and even in the rules of punctuation common throughout.  This can make for a somewhat confusing read at times and what happens next is not always clear (in a good way).  All this diversity of style though adds up to a sumptuous buffet.

My Family and Other Animals – Gerald Durrell

This was on the school curriculum at some point in my early high school years.  I can’t say it had the same powerful effect on me as other books I read throughout those years (my HSC text The Great Gatsby still remains my favourite book) but its’ quirkiness and humour has always stayed with me.  It was the obvious choice to read on holiday in Corfu.

The book casts a magic spell from the opening pages that never let up.  I was fascinated once more by the exaggerated eccentricities of Durrell’s family who on a whim had fled England for Corfu.  Durrell writes with a loving wit of the foibles and follies of his family.  But equally, as befits someone who would become one of the world’s great naturalists, the book is a celebration of the natural world and the weird and wonderful animals young Gerald adopted as pets.

In my re-reading I found myself laughing out loud at various passages and the realisation dawned at how much my teenage self had clearly undersold how good this book actually is.

The White Queen: One Nation and the Politics of Race – David Marr

I am a fan of the Quarterly Essay.  The concept fulfils a very important niche in public discourse in Australian life and over the years they have often affected the direction of public policy debate in this country.  David Marr’s contributions have generally been noteworthy and some such as his profile of Kevin Rudd contributed to the realisation in the public mind that behind the scenes Rudd was as an out of control autocrat driven by rage – a significant factor in allowing his caucus colleagues to move against him.  Now Marr has turned his attention to Pauline Hanson.

As non-traditional parties are rising around the developed world, with support for populist parties increasing particularly fast in Australia’s regions it is more important than ever to discern what lies behind their attraction.

Marr’s essay takes only as long as its title before making clear his view that what primarily animates One Nation voters is race.  This may not be particularly revelatory (e.g. recent research pulled together by the Grattan Institute indicates that nearly 80% of One Nation voters want immigration cut compared to under 50% of National Party voters) but it is something not often said out loud.  For instance, Marr points out that mainstream parties have been reluctant to call Hanson out on her racism and in fact the opposite has happened. Indeed, in the late 90s and early 2000’s John Howard co-opted the world view of One Nation in order to nullify it as a political threat.  To this day the Abbott and Turnbull governments continue to pander to the basest instincts of One Nation voters by weakly attempting to placate them by talking up border security and crackdowns on citizenship.  The stupidity of this position from a political frame cannot be underestimated – it breaks the iron rule of politics to never talk to your opponents’ strengths (in the current climate, race wars are more the strength of outsiders then they are of incumbent conservative parties) but also serves to just further inflame the paranoias and fears of Hanson’s followers.

This core believe of Hansonites is what allows the party to exist like a viral strain in the Australian body politic despite the often clown like behaviour of its elected representatives.  As we’ve seen through the recent Queensland election One Nation retains an outsize ability to affect the frame in which we view politics and this makes Marr’s essay as relevant as ever despite being published back in March.  The task for the rest of us is working out how we respond and counter.



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