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Book Reviews: Fallowell, Bennett and Clary

Tue 26 Feb 2008 In: Books View at Wayback View at NDHA

After reading and hearing all the recent outrage over the supposedly viciously anti-New Zealand comments in gay Brit writer Duncan Fallowell's new book Going As Far As I Can, and then actually reading the book, it's clear to me that Fallowell understands us far better than some might wish to believe. Going As Far As I Can, by Duncan Fallowell. Allen a remarkable theatrical tour by Brit actors Lawrence Olivier and Vivien Leigh processed through our main centres at the time Fallowell was born; and the writer was pining for something to counteract the pressures and disconnections of modern Britain. These influences all came together in his decision to spend time here searching out some much needed balm for his restless, unsatisfied soul. Going As Far As I Can isn't a travel guide, and it isn't just a critique of New Zealand either, although it contains elements of both. Much more rewarding that either of those genres, it's a personal reflection on experiences and observations made by one man for whom this country, while reassuringly english-speaking and with enough western comforts to make the clearly aesthetic Fallowell feel a little bit at home, would be a challenge to his spirit. He observes himself and his acquaintances here and in Britain with the same clear and probably twinkling eye he uses to size up his experiences of New Zealand. He's not squeamish either, his elderly homosexual urges bubble to the surface in the most likely and unlikely of places. He hires a rent boy in Christchurch and their friendship apparently manages to transcend the initial commercial arrangement. He regularly feels his sap rising in the company of a variety of probably straight kiwi chaps, and takes a fancy to repeatedly lurking in the dark basement labyrinth of an Auckland adult shop. Fallowell travels the length and breadth of the country at a leisurely pace, wines and dines with some of New Zealand's most interesting artistic and architectural thinkers and observes the work and influences of some of our worst. He sits in splendid isolation in some of our remotest and wildest scenic locales. One minute he's observing the splendours of Central Otago, the next he's sizing up the physique of a comely waiter. He has clearly done his homework about many aspects of our cultural history, certainly he is informed enough to spot the flaws inherent in our more recently PC-blighted cultural machinations. Along the way he finds his antidote to life in Britain, realises that it's not exactly as he expected it to be, but acknowledges it is in some ways better. He heads home satisfied and, I think, reassured. Despite the manufactured media outrage over his criticism of our habit of destroying significant chunks of our gracious urban heritage (his thoughts on the historic beauty of the ornate and decaying old St. James Theatre in Auckland should be required reading for every city council planner and urban developer), it's clear that Fallowell has summed up New Zealand and New Zealanders rather well. Going As Far As I Can is a great read... witty, literate, insightful, spry and a tad sly. What a shame Fallowell and gay NZ writer and Auckland Civic Theatre rescuer Peter Wells never spent a few hours together. What a damned shame that some New Zealanders proved their personal and cultural immaturity by shouting shrilly that someone from the other side of the world fails to act, think and be just like us and doesn't find us perfect in every way. And what on earth is the significance of Fallowell's final short paragraph? The Uncommon Reader, by Alan Bennett. Allen   

Credit: Jay Bennie

First published: Tuesday, 26th February 2008 - 3:43pm

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