Posted by: Lisa Hill | January 7, 2013

Sensational Snippets: The Glass Canoe (1976), by David Ireland

The Glass Canoe

I am reading The Glass Canoe, which won the Miles Franklin Award in 1976 and has recently been reissued in the Text Classics series.  David Ireland won the award three times altogether: for The Unknown Industrial Prisoner in 1971, and for A Woman of the Future in 1979.   If the other two are as good as this one then I am in for a treat, because I have them both on my TBR…

In fragments, ‘Meat Man’ tells us about a side of life in Western Sydney that is in stark contrast to the beauty of the harbour:

My mother died not long after the traffic there got real bad.  We used to live in a house right on the main road, one of a row of the old Caroline Chisholm cottages – they’re demolished now and a car sale yard there instead – and when they widened the road and it got busier and busier, she got sick. 

At night the house shuddered with the big refrigerated freighters, semi-trailers, low-loaders, cement trucks and all the rest.  You couldn’t use the front door.  Day and night it was, the sound going through you like knives in a cutter, and her dying.  I held her hand once and felt her pulse dragging.  Like knots in a bit of cotton, only not spaced evenly.

(The Glass Canoe by David Ireland, Text Classics, 2012, p.11)

The economical laconic Aussie male, breaking your heart with that single word ‘once’.

Author: David Ireland
Title: The Glass Canoe
Publisher: Text Publishing, 2012 (First published 1976)
ISBN: 9781921922411
Source: Kingston Library


Fishpond: The Glass Canoe (Text Classics)


  1. I love this novel! I’m keen to read your thoughts about it.


    • Have you reviewed it? I promise not to peek…


      • I have. Late last year, I think. Needless to say, I found some more of his stuff at a second-hand bookshop after finishing this.


        • I’ve found it. I’ll read it later, I’ve just harvested the URL so that I can find it again later on.
          My word, it’s a different sort of Aussie culture, that Southern Cross pub is what I have heard described as a ‘bloodhouse’. Of course, in the days when ‘bloodhouses’ like that existed, women were not allowed into them by law. We were allowed to have a shandy *ugh* in the Ladies Lounge, and paid twice as much for the privilege. (I remember once that we wanted to kill some time before the drive-in started, when daylight-saving meant the film didn’t begin till about 9pm. But we didn’t have enough money to buy a counter meal in the Ladies Lounge, and they wouldn’t let us into the bar where it was cheap enough for us!)


          • It’s definitely a part of Australian culture I have limited exposure to. It’s a credit to Ireland that I didn’t want to kill every character – straight white men sitting around drinking beer and talking about sport is not something I usually respond well to, so full credit to his ability to squeeze some sympathy out of me.


            • But that’s the man’s genius! A woman like me, feeling some empathy with blokes like this. It’s hard to put down, this book…


              • Well, quite.


  2. Hi Lisa – this was my favourite literary discovery of the past year. I was intrigued by Michael Heyward’s description of it before the Text Classics series was released mid-2012 – and I was certainly not disappointed – stylish, witty, occasionally brutal, but surprisingly tender at times. Upon finishing The Glass Canoe, I too tracked down a few more David Ireland books in second-hand bookshops – looking forward to getting stuck into those in the not-too-distant future!

    It is a crime that David Ireland is so underappreciated these days – he writes with a verve and eye for social nuance that the likes of Christos Tsiolkas wish they could match. Although published in the 70s, the Glass Canoe still has interesting things to say about our drinking culture.


    • *snap* Evan, you must be psychic. (Between the pings from my laptop that let me know there are new comments here LOL) I am just reading about Danny, the one with the football on his mantelpiece, and I thought of Tsolkias and how much more sophisticated Ireland is, even though he’s writing about such very rough people. There is an affection for his characters that is completely missing from The Slap, only the old guy (whose name I’ve forgotten) is depicted with any tenderness in that novel, but already I am fond of Meat Man (even if my mother would have had a heart attack if ever I’d brought him home as a boyfriend!)


  3. Hi Lisa, I like those books as well. Women of the Future is my favourite and was an eye opener for me when I read it years ago. He’s much underrated as an author.


    • Hello Brendan, this is great, it looks as if there is a bit of a David Ireland Appreciation Society out there *smile*.
      I feel as if I am coming late to the party, but I shall try to make up for it. Lisa


  4. Okay, well – that’s my reading for tonight :)


  5. David Ireland is right at the top of my favourite Australian writers and whenever there is a “favourite/best Oz fiction” thing on I always vote for “The Unknown Industrial Prisoner” To me Ireland is our Faulkner. So glad his novels are being read and reprinted again. He really deserves to be better known and appreciated.


    • Hello Jude, I am so thrilled to find that this author is so admired, and *blush* a bit embarrassed about discovering him so late in my reading career. I am going to go on an Ireland ‘spree’ during this year, that’s for sure. Cheers, Lisa


  6. I would read that just by its title alone great title,all the best stu ,


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