Posted by: Lisa Hill | May 1, 2016

Gotham, by Nick Earls


Oh dear, I am the wrong person to be reading this, I thought to myself, as I began reading Gotham, Book 1 in Nick Earls’ new collection of novellas called The Wisdom Tree.  I have paid so little attention to popular and consumer culture since the late 1960s that I am going to miss all the pop references in this novella.  I am not going to know which names are real people/places/brands and which ones are not.

Well, as my subsequent discoveries show, (see below, if you too are culturally challenged) my (unrepentant) ignorance didn’t matter.  I may have missed some earth-shattering allusion, but it didn’t compromise my reading of the story.

The setting is New York and the narrator is a journalist called Jeff Foster who is interviewing a waste-of-space rapper called Na$ti Boi.  Na$ti is nineteen, he revels in his name (and events show that he deserves it), and Australia is about to be graced with his presence at some festival.  Foster has sold and re-sold this interview – not just to the festival website.  He seems to think that parents will want to read about this uncongenial young person in weekend magazines, and editors have agreed to publish his interview so presumably they think so too.

(People sometimes ask me how I find so much time to read. It’s because I don’t read features across five glossy pages of a newspaper’s Saturday magazine.)

Foster arrives at Bloomingdales on time, an hour after closing time.  Na$ti is in the ‘At His Service’ section, which is ‘Men’s Personal shopping’.  The staff are suitably obsequious and so is his manager Smokey who has set up this interview.  Smokey’s wife is in labour, sending him furious texts demanding his attendance, while he remains, enmeshed in the web of Na$ti’s self-absorption, unable to get away while an explosion looms over a maxed-out credit card:

The best minders are conjurors, guiding the eye to the other hand, away from tantrums, embarrassment, slander, hubris.  (p.45)

Foster knows he is supposed to be impressed by Na$ti’s nonchalant expenditure, so I knew I was supposed to be impressed by the brand names of the stuff Na$ti dawdles over.  I warmed to Foster as I also warmed to Smokey as I realised that both of them have a real life somewhere else:

I’m not on the inside.  He’s welcome to remind me of that as much as he likes.  It would not occur to him that I don’t want to be him.  It would shock him to learn that I am in his van, writing this piece, solely for the money.  It would not shock Smokey, I think.  His life is in a hospital somewhere else on this crowded island… (p. 60)

Tucked carefully into this world so alien to me are references to Foster’s family, holed up in a hotel somewhere in the city.  The second part of this novel – suddenly emotionally engaging – reveals the story of Ariel, Foster’s four-year-old daughter, and the parents’ struggle to give her a life worth living.  Smokey makes a reappearance in a park, and the reader feels uplifted.

And even just a little bit more kindly disposed towards Na$ti…

The blurb at Goodreads says I should think Bonfire of the Vanities,  by Tom WolfeNot having read it, I can’t answer for that. But I can attest to the way Nick Earls tests our prejudices in this slim novella, exploring the notion of family and the terror of loss.

Author: Nick Earls
Title: Gotham
Publisher: Inkerman and Blunt, 2016
ISBN: 9780992498580
Review copy courtesy of Inkerman and Blunt via publicist Brendan Fredericks.

Available from:

  • Inkerman and Blunt where you can sign up for the other four books in the series as they are released;  The Wisdom Tree series will be available to download as audiobooks from May 2016 from
  • Fishpond: Gotham: Wisdom Tree: 1.
  • Readings has it too: they have a brief review in Readings Monthly but it wasn’t up on their website the day I looked.

Subsequent discoveries, thank you, Google

  • Dee Dee Ramone, is was a vocalist in a punk rock band called the Ramones, circa 1970.
  • David Byrne is a musician in a new wave band 1975-1991.
  • Chris Isaak is a rock musician.
  • So is Chris Martin.  He is the lead singer of Coldplay, a band I have heard of but never listened to, and is married to Gwyneth Paltrow who is one of those bland blonde lookalike American actors who star in rom-coms and win Oscars when actors like Judy Dench don’t.
  • Jay Z is a rapper who may or may not be married to Beyoncé.  Wikipedia says he is worth $520million.
  • A$AP Rocky is a rapper too.  I am not sure about Joey Fat Beats: there is a Joey Bada$$ in a band called Fat Beats so it seems likely.
  • Deborah Conway is an Australian singer.
  • Martin Sheen is apparently one of America’s most celebrated, colorful, and accomplished actors.
  • Gold grills on teeth are jewellery i.e. decorative covers often made of gold, silver or jewel-encrusted precious metals that snap over one or more of the teeth.  See Wikipedia if you don’t believe me.
  • The Chelsea Hotel is a New York hotel famous for having lots of famous residents (writers, musicians, actors, artists etc.)
  • Gotham is a nickname for New York (and also the name of a brothel) but #IAlreadyKnewThis Gotham City is the imaginary city where Batman lives.



  1. Will you read the whole series of novellas? What a concept. And Chris Martin and Gwyneth are consciously uncoupled, come on, you knew that ☺


    • I might read them all, but probably not on schedule.
      (And no, I did not know that! Really, truly!)


  2. Wow, I can understand not knowing who Jay Z is (I couldn’t pick him out in a picture I’m sure, or name a song), but DeeDee Ramone and David Byrne! I’m kind of in shock… You didn’t watch Martin Sheen in the West Wing? I wondered about the conscious uncoupling too. Gotham sounds intriguing BTW.


    • Nope…
      I do not watch any commercial TV except for Masterchef.
      It’s very liberating!


  3. I knew the older references – you missed Debra Conway was lead singer of Do Re Mi (on Countdown in the 70s) – but I had to google Nick Earls, I thought he was a children’s writer.


  4. Gotham sounds interesting! I’ve always enjoyed Nick Earls, so I might have to check this one out. By the way, I couldn’t agree more about Gwyneth Paltrow/Judi Dench. Hollywood is horrendous. And don’t feel bad that you haven’t listened to Coldpay. It’s incredibly uncool to like them now ;)


  5. Hmmm … I wouldn’t call myself a fan of popular culture, and am particularly hopeless when it comes to musicians after the late 1960s too, but I guess I do keep my ear out for what’s going on. Martin Sheen? West Wing! Now that was an interesting series that my daughter introduced me to. And David Byrne’s Talking Heads was one of the only bands I knew from the 1980s (discovered him from a film I think). Interesting music, interesting man. I also know of Deborah Conway – she’s been around the Australian scene for a long time. I wouldn’t be able to name her songs off the cuff but I’d recognise her in a line up. Oh, and I do know the Chelsea Hotel – from Leonard Cohen’s song.

    I did like Bonfire of the vanities when it first came out. Excellent satire of the “masters of the universe” of the 1980s. Still, I’m not sure I’d prioritise this book for me, given the time I have for reading, though I’m sure it’s worth giving a go – Earls is an important part I think of the Australian literary scene because he’s one of the few who does humour?


    • I think I’ll have to read Bonfire of the Vanities one day because it’s one of 1001 Books, and if it’s a satire I’ll probably enjoy it.
      But Hollywood film has never interested me, I worked at the State Film Centre in the 1970s and learned to love the subtleties of foreign film there.
      The only exception is disaster movies. I love a good disaster movie.


      • Oh Lisa! Disaster movies. They’re all the same: a disaster happens, we spend the whole movie watching people try to get out of whatever it is, some do, some don’t, the end!! (Seriously though, I have enjoyed some, I admit, but this is what they are isn’t it!)

        I guess I don’t really care where movies come from, as long as they’re good, and Hollywood has produced some good ones, along with all the silly or average ones.

        It’s a long time since I read Bonfire but if I’m remember correctly the opening chapter is great.


        • Disaster movies, precisely. I watch them as comedy. I’m the one trying to stifle my laughter as The Mighty USA steps in to Save The Day.


  6. Well, I know all the references (I was a complete music junkie up until about 10 years ago but still go to gigs) but I’ve never heard of Nick Earls! 😉 And while everyone mentions Martin Sheen from the West Wing (a series I never watched) you must have heard of him from Apocalyse Now, where he starred alongside Marlon Brando?

    This novella sounds good, by the way. Are you planning on reading the rest in the series?


    • Nope, didn’t see Apocalypse Now.
      (I didn’t even watch the Movie Show on SBS to know what I was supposed to know).
      I’ve never been to a rock concert, or a gig of any kind except for the 1930s big band jazz ones The Spouse when he was leader of the Cotton Club Orchestra.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I’m surprised with some of the cultural references you had to look up. :-) BTW Dee Dee was the bass player in The Ramones; Joey was the vocalist.


    • There you go, I can’t even get it right when I Google it…

      Liked by 1 person

  8. You’ve sold me! I do like Earls but the quotes you chose were extra-enticing (and just quietly, think I was across the pop-culture references you Googled but will look forward to spotting others).


    • Well, that’s the point, Kate, leaving aside the pop culture stuff, Earls writes really well, and I like his take on the diversity of humanity. I think it’s interesting that he’s chosen something new to do:)

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, this does sound quite different. I’ve read three or four of his previous books and seem to recall they’re in the ‘lad-lit’ zone.


  9. This sounds like my kind of thing, especially if compared to Bonfire of the Vanities. Good to hear that it won you over!


    • What intrigues me is that the next one in the linked series is called Venice, but apparently it’s set in Brisbane…

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I love Nick Earls and, although I didn’t overly enjoy Tom Wolfe’s ‘Bonfire of the Vanities’, I know that publishers often get these comparisons wrong so I won’t be put off.
    Thank you. A wonderful review as always but I’ve got to tell you…I am ROFL and LOLing to the max over your pop culture discoveries. Love it! Just as you would be in hysterics over the huge gaps in my proper education (language, literature, art, history…you get the idea). Vive la difference!


    • *chuckle* I’m not sure who’s got the ‘proper’ education, I bet mine gets me into more strife than yours does! Did I ever tell you about the time I made a little movie for the kids at school, and chose what i thought was a beaut little bit of free music for the soundtrack… fortunately I showed some of the teachers before I showed it to the kids….I’d chosen the theme music to Sex in the City!


  11. I’ve just won this novella along with the next four from Griffith Reviews – what a wonderful prize – I’m looking forward to it (I’m not up on popular culture either (but I do know who Coldplay is)).


    • *chortle* You’ve outdone me!
      (What a great prize indeed. I’ve got the next one on the TBR, but I’m not going to read it yet because I’m not allowed to publish my review until June 1st.)


      • 😃


  12. […] 1010 Printing for The Wisdom Tree Series, (Inkerman & Blunt).  (See my reviews of Venice and Gotham too). […]


  13. […] my goodness… from the modernity of Nick Earls’ uplifting novella Gotham to the dark horror of the 20th century… I am reading novellas to break up my reading of […]


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