Saturday, February 23, 2008

Duncan Fallowell: A polysexual maverick visits New Zealand

Going As Far As I Can: The Ultimate Travel Book by Duncan Fallowell. Published by Profile Books, £12.99. To order, click here

Quite a few New Zealanders raged about Going As Far As I Can even before it came out, sight unseen. Premature newspaper hype about the book seemed to activate a national inferiority complex and grown men and women mutated into the green inky anony-mice. Now that it is out, can you find a copy to rage about? Amazon’s stock is currently running on empty – more to rage about - on account of high volume interest. But I’ve got a copy and I’ve read it, so here we go …

To begin with, is it a mystery tour? The front cover fails to tell you where this “ultimate travel book” wishes to take us. This is no accident, of course. Instead, a Hockney-ish sea painting - all vibrant, seductive, sunny colours - invites us to eye-stroll through a telescope suburban doorway towards an island vista. This is called glamour and NZ I’m afraid to say is one of the perceived blokes of nations. It certainly ain't London. So, can an exotic, quixotic, polysexual old-soul maverick (and a First World cultural chauvinist, by the way) like Fallowell make a fancy flash-lit red carpet of this beige-sounding land? Well, if anyone can do it, it’s fabulous Fallowell.

The death of a close friend of his gives life to the enterprise: she has left him some money in her will and, before she passes, he tells her that with it he will embark on a long-haul trip to end all long-haul trips. So off he flies - his eye alighting on the erotic tum pelt of a young male fellow passenger - and soon enough learns that in this new alien place he'll turn into a flambéd corpse without his "cancer hat".

The very novelty of new names and characters intrigues him. But, as if to jump-start his imaginative interest in NZ, he begins by perversely retracing the steps of Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh on their antipodean tour of 1948 (the year of Fallowell's birth). This takes him to Auckland's hidden-away St James Theatre where they once played. His reaction to its abandonment, as his guide switches on the lights to reveal its unloved yesteryear grandeur, is like that of a bereaved mummy elephant standing forlornly over her dead calf. He trumpets his incomprehesion at the property development hell of NZ's cityscapes. This sets the mood for the entirety of the book: all in all, NZ is an architectural and cultural mess, at a loss with itself since it parted company with its parent First Worlds. (Pause to rage ... )

And for the reader, that's where the fun starts. Fallowell never writes better than when his emotions are immediately engaged - by rage, rapture, whatever. "I didn't speak for a while," he writes of his moments in the dead theatre. "It had been a long time since I was so affected by a decayed, forgotten palace ... " His capacity to feel intensely finds full expression in evocative prose that's best described as icily sulphurous: in his hands the St James Palace comes to life, full of reproach to the dull denizens outside in its baroque, unappreciated beauty; a sullen character of its own.

Thereafter he takes off in buses, trains and hire cars for a rich series of encounters and collisions with the natives. The key word here is collisions. Throw Fallowell into or against foreign situations and enjoy the resultant spectaculars! In this instance, the Maoris provoke his snobbish scorn. Advised by a pal to read some Maori writers, he samples the work of Patricia Grace but dismisses its "Plain Jane prose". Later, he dilates on the claim of racism against Maoris in NZ: the trouble with the Maoris, he writes, is that they want to have their cake and eat it: to "enjoy the fruits of prosperity while standing aloof from it." That, dangerously, leads him to forge a connection with the state of immigrant Muslims in Europe. "Prosperity is not an accident," he reminds. He writes as a man looking down, rather than as a man on an equal footing.

During one particularly bad bad hair day, he rages against New Zealanders in general: "I'm fed up with people being fat and ugly and covered in tattoos." It is this line that has infuriated the anony-mice. But the NZ media missed out the next line: "I'm fed up with my own company." Yep, it was one of those days. He was pissed off with everything.

He goes onto make even more trenchant and general observations, however: "Anyone successful appearing on radio or television repeatedly makes down-home cringes, honky-tonk obeisances to ordinariness, to prove that he or she has not got above themselves. No one is allowed to soar." Here is the cultural imperialist in full song, revelling in the joys of intellectual display and achievement. But, Duncan, you did go to Oxford. Do behave.

A journey with Duncan Fallowell - and do catch up with his brilliant To Noto and St Petersburg travel books - would not be the same without the endless discursion and distraction. His interest in New Zealander Katherine Mansfield prompts a memory of lunch with octogenarian novelist Francis King who told him he could still cock-cock without Viagra. Fallowell's search for gay stranger sex - "anything goes but no anal" - adds a primal layer to the trek: in his encounters he seeks both relief and fast-track intimacy of souls, so is forever left disappointed. He is, after all, a romantic. He half hints that the more salacious detail is being held back for another time, another book.

If you like your prose journeys literal and linear, rather than lateral and visceral, then Fallowell is not for you. Stick to the Lonely Planet and Rough Guide brands. Speaking for myself, I relished every moment of this book: it interested me in a land that had held no interest for me. Fallowell's route leaves its own flash-lit red carpet in its wake. It is the gaudiest of additions to the Thubron-Chatwin-Morris library. It left me panting for more.

To order, click here

My interview with Duncan Fallowell, click here

34 comments:

Anonymous said...

This review confirms that the "anoymice" were right to attack Fallowell for his disparagement of New Zealanders. In fact it sounds worse. I must read it now.

Anonymous said...

Did you know the theatre Fallowell writes about is closed due to a fire? I wonder if his book provoked an arson attack.

drf said...

Dear Madame Arcati - I used to have a Fijian boyfriend (as I mention in the book) so I never thought of Maoris as Martians who could be mentioned only in a tone of hushed reverence. They're fellow human beings too, you know.

With best wishes, Duncan Fallowell

Anonymous said...

Did you two fall out?

sofa said...

I guess they're both free spirits - like me - cept I'm lazy

Anonymous said...

I've just finished Fallowell's book and it's the best travel writing, brilliant. The sex scenes in the Den towards the end are not wank material but not far off. Do I get paid for this review?

Anonymous said...

Anony-mice?

Anonymous said...

Love the review Madame. Are you Duncan's lover?

Fish said...

I have a funny feeling about this... it comes from a) being rather drunk at the moment, and b) having finished all books in the house. I feel I must buy this book, and read every word at least three times. And have a jolly old time with it.

Hmmm...

Much love to all in Arcatiland,
Fish x

Madame Arcati said...

Hello Fish, to be drunk on a Saturday night ... how it takes me back. You will love Duncan's book: it is meant to be wallowed and re-wallowed in, contentious opinion and all. I notice the former Times editor Peter Stothard has part-reviewed it on his blog and is highly pleasured. He is looking forward to reading about the one-eyed monster, whatever that is. Honestly, these former Times editors are so louche these days.

surfpup said...

Is there a podcast of him readin a bit?

Anonymous said...

Favourable reviews in the Spectator, Guardian, Express.

SUSAN said...

Plenty on amazon last time I looked.

Anonymous said...

'polysexual' - what does that mean exactly ? There are only two sexes and 'bi' usually covers a simultaneous interest in both.

Madame Arcati said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Madame Arcati said...

News to me you can tell how many copies are left for sale on Amazon just by looking at a book page. I have my sources on these matters.

As to polysexuality - aside from its eye-grabbing lure, there's this definition for you to suck on: "Polysexuality refers to people who are attracted to more than one gender but do not wish to identfy as bisexual because it implies that there are only two binary genders."

I have no idea whether this applies to Duncan, but I exercise reviewing-licence to tell it as it is.

maximus said...

Just a little hopefully helpful info, re your comment on the cover:

"To begin with, is it a mystery tour? The front cover fails to tell you where this “ultimate travel book” wishes to take us. This is no accident, of course. Instead, a Hockney-ish sea painting - all vibrant, seductive, sunny colours - invites us to eye-stroll through a telescope suburban doorway towards an island vista."

The vista is immediately recogisable to New Zealanders (and visitors) as Rangitoto, an uninhabited offshore island in Auckland's Hauraki gulf, of which many people in Auckland have a similar view. Judging by the position of the island, and the uninterrupted view out to sea, you could surmise that the house he lived in was on the North Shore, possibly Takapuna, or more likely Cheltenham Beach, in the suburb of Devonport. Yes, i know, we either have unpronouncable Maori names or we just inappropriately steal yours. Dreadfully sorry for the inconvenience.

Devonport: Notorious gay haunt, also full of Navy boys. I have no idea if the two are connected.

Looking forward to seeing it on the shelves down here - assuming copies are not burnt by Customs on the way through....

Duralex said...

<< "Polysexuality refers to people who are attracted to more than one gender but do not wish to identfy as bisexual because it implies that there are only two binary genders." >>

This makes sense. One of my closest friends is a MTF operated transsexual, she considers herself a true woman, but the status of non operated trannies is necessarily more ambiguous.

<< I have no idea whether this applies to Duncan, but I exercise reviewing-licence to tell it as it is. >>

Good little hack. And of course it will be the official truth until Mr Fallowell formally denies it, and that common belief will be persisting even beyond his denial. You know the way it works with rumors. ;-)

Anonymous said...

Devonport is not a notorious gay haunt - it's a ghetto for the super-rich

Anonymous said...

Fallowell was described by the Daily Express as a 'polymath'. Now you call him polysexual. Polynesia? Polyfilla? Any more offers?

Madame Arcati said...

Duncan's not at all roly POLY. He did not go to POLYTECHNIC. He is into POLYMORPHOUS perversity, but put him through a POLYGRAPH test first. He denies being a POLYDACTYL. There, proof he's polysexual.

Anonymous said...

Poly put the kettle on - I'm exhausted

Anonymous said...

There's a pretty big lez contingent in the NZ Navy. I'm only mentioning it. They're lovely girls

Madame Arcati said...

Duncan didn't mention the lesbotic tendency in the New Zealand Navy though he does describe the crash-bang-wallop sex of two dykes in another hotel room. Goodness, I feel another review coming on.

When I've finished a review I always feel I could write another one on the same book. I now want to write one about Duncan's pursuit of perfection in his travels and whether Lord Mountbatten was cock-cocked by a big-cocked singer - called Hutch I think. For a moment I thought he was talking about Michael Hutchence but then sense returned.

The lesbotic tendency in the NZ Navy could make a book in itself. I must write to Ed Victor for his opinion.

Anonymous said...

I think you've done Duncan a grave injustice calling him a snob. There's obviously something MUCH more interesting going on. Apparently Hutchence screwed April Ashley not Duncan Fallowell

Anonymous said...

And, Madame Arcati, you've deleted April Ashley from your list of fascinating sites. Why is that? Has she died?

Madame Arcati said...

Nothing ever happens on April's website. Sites have to be dynamic to retain Madame's interest, except Duncan's which is an elegant directory of his work.

The other thing is that April promised to give me a email interview. I sent her the questions and then I heard nothing ever again. Possibly she took against me after Duncan gave a forthright assessment of her on Arcati, following the plagiarism scandal; but that would be petty.

If you're reading this April, it's not too late to talk to me. Arcati loves the Aprils of this world.

And thank you Maximus and others for your information about the cover picture on Duncan's book. I went out for a supper with a friend last night and she said: "Your review, it was OK". Bitch.

Madame Arcati said...

Oh, and to the anony-mouse who tells me that Michael Hutchence cock-cunted April Ashley, this may be true; but let us not forget Hutch who cock-cocked Lord Mountbatten, whoever Hutch was (read Duncan's book for brief bio). Hutch also cock-cunted Lady Mountbatten apparently. You just don't think of these things when you view their photos.

drf said...

Dear Madame Arcati - I shall be adding more content to my unofficial website in a few weeks time when all the reviews are in. This will include Wyndham's film and some audio readings from me. Although the site is not interactive in the glorious way yours is, I always reply to the non-spam emails sent to me there.

Hutch by the way is a wonderful alloy of the apparently incongruous and one of the patron saints of life-loving misfits everywhere. His recordings are available.

With best wishes, Duncan

Duralex said...

I notice Mr Fallowell remains tight-lipped on the subject of polysexuality. Qui ne dit mot consent... :-)

Anonymous said...

we'll have to read the damned book

sofa said...

Waterstones in Notting Hill don't have it

Anonymous said...

Go to Daunt's further along the road in Holland Park Avenue

Waterstone's said...

Waterstone's Notting Hill had it, sold out, and we've now replenished, and our customers will surely enjoy the book as much as we do.