Posted by: Lisa Hill | November 23, 2014

Crow Mellow (2014), by Julian Davies

Crow Mellow Crow Mellow is a most unusual book, not like any other that I’ve read.  A collaboration between the artist Phil Day and the author Julian Davies, it’s a reinterpretation of Aldous Huxley’s Crome Yellow which I re-read a little while ago.  I read it then because  I wanted to see how this new novel by Julian Davies played with the original…

The answer is quite a lot.  Apart from its playful title, Crow Mellow is, like the original, a social satire that uses a gathering in a country house in order to poke fun at contemporary fads and fashions.  Davies borrows the structure of the Huxley novel, and his characters, transplanted into contemporary Australia, follow the Huxley script to such an extent that if you’ve read the original recently as I have, the interest lies not so much in the plot but in the witty correspondences.   So there is a pompous, confused young would-be writer called Phil Day who corresponds to Denis Stone; there is his lady-love Anna Rimbush (Anne Wimbush) who’s more interested in the artist Paul (Gombauld).   Mr. Scogan becomes Scrogum whose name with the transposition of a consonant allows Davies some rather adolescent humour.  And so on.

The satire covers all sorts of contemporary issues, not just literary and artistic pretensions but also capitalism, consumerism, gender politics and a parody of our not-so esteemed prime minister at a fancy dress party.   Julian Davies’ disenchantment with the state of modern publishing  finds voice in Scrogum’s inspection of Mitchell’s library, a strange and increasingly anachronistic place:

‘We all now believe in a world where knowledge has no physical existence, not substance.  It shimmers with electronic effervescence and swamps out minds with its sheer extent.  A hundred years ago it was likely that educated people anywhere in the West shared a good part of what they read.  Today what we know we know almost alone.  We exist in cyber isolation simply because we cherry-pick from a plethora of information on a whim.

‘So here, in this museum to the past, we can celebrate the mystery of lost certainties, lost commonality.  And yet what a motley spectrum these books create.  Look at them bunched together, their faded colours, the lettering running horizontal to the spine so that we must distort the posture of our necks to read the titles and end up looking like a pack of quizzical dogs. What a fine thing this is, you might say –  a collection of a good part of the dead knowledge of our species. But even this is a mere flippant smattering of the books of the world.  And what of the books of this year, even those of this year in Australia?  For against all expectations, books are still published.  When I last researched the numbers, as I do periodically, I found that there were over ten thousand titles published in one year in this country alone.  (Ch. 14, there aren’t any page numbers).

Scrogum goes on to mock titles such as Selected Prejudices and A Short History of Lost Opportunities, suggesting that it might be better to resist the temptation to open the book.  Davies has a lot of fun with the targets of his humour, though I can’t say that I enjoyed the scatological elements.

What makes this book most unusual, however, is the profusion of illustrations, line drawings by Phil Day.  They are like huge marginalia, swirling around the text, often dominating a double page spread.  I wish I could scan a page to show you, but that would be a breach of copyright.  The next best thing is for you to visit the Finlay Lloyd home page – but it doesn’t really show you how witty these drawings are: each character is depicted in a kind of shorthand cropped image, so that, for instance, Anna is a pair of impossibly long legs in high heels, topped by an impossibly short mini skirt and boob-tube.  No head, because the blokes aren’t interested in what’s in her head.  Melissa, on the other hand, is an impossibly long plait  – no body, as befits her intellectual pretensions.  The blokes are mostly just heads, though one is a hectoring pointing finger.   Mitchell’s head is like an egg with a Hitlerian moustache.

I’ll be interested to see what readers might make of this book if they come to it fresh, without the experience of reading Huxley first.

Update: Julian Davies has very kindly granted permission for me to scan a page of the book so that you can see the style of the illustrations. This double page spread comes from the beginning of chapter 8.

crow mellow ch8

Author: Julian Davies
Illustrator: Phil Day
Title: Crow Mellow
Publisher: Finlay Lloyd, 2014
ISBN: 9780987592941
Source: Review copy courtesy of Finlay Lloyd


Fishpond: Crow Mellow

See Finlay Lloyd



  1. I’ll come back and read this review later Lisa when I’ve read this book,which will probably be next year. I did read your last line and I reckon I’ll be coming to it fresh!


  2. I have just written a review of ‘Crow Mellow’ for the Fairfax newspapers, and I’d better hold off making detailed comments on the text until after my review appears, but I agree with you, Lisa, that the drawings make a huge difference. (It’s not like any other novel I’ve read either.)


    • Hi Dorothy – I look forward to seeing your review – they’re always excellent:)
      Next weekend?


  3. Wow, this sounds really interesting. I will try and find a copy.


    • Do come back and let me know what you thought of it when you’ve read it, please:)


  4. Thanks, Lisa. I don’t think my review will appear for a few weeks.


    • That’s a pity, I think it’s the sort of book that would make a good Xmas gift for the right person, but people need to know about it.


  5. It sounds intriguing Lisa. Thanks for the review


  6. […] (ANZLitLovers) has reviewed the book (including a good description of the art), and author Dorothy Johnston’s review was […]


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