Posted by: Lisa Hill | December 12, 2019

Simpson Returns, by Wayne Macauley

Recently shortlisted for the 2020 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award, Simpson Returns is Wayne Macauley’s sixth novel.  Here on the blog I’ve reviewed Blueprints for a Barbed-wire Canoe (2004); The Cook (2011); Demons (2014); Some Tests (2017); and I have Caravan Story (2007) on the TBR somewhere too.  If I had to pick a favourite it would be a toss-up between The Cook and Some Tests, but all these novels are disconcertingly relevant satires that nail modern pretensions and preoccupations in a refreshingly original way. In this new book Simpson Returns Macauley uses the national myth about Simpson and his Donkey to take aim at our platitudes about egalitarianism…

The iconic Gallipoli stretcher-bearer John Simpson Kirkpatrick was so beloved by former Prime Minister John Howard that his image graced a poster about values to be taught to all children. Presumably Howard did not know that, as Mark Baker reports at the SMH in 2013, this embodiment of mateship and heroism was a knockabout 22-year-old Englishman who enlisted in the First AIF under his middle name to hide the fact that he was a deserter from the merchant navy.  A parliamentary enquiry was set up to deal with persistent calls for Simpson to be awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross, but it found in 2013, that most of what is said about Simpson is a lie, and although he was brave, he was no braver than the other stretcher-bearers whose deeds have faded into anonymity.

Macauley’s Simpson is a nice enough fellow all the same, it’s just that—like his namesake at Gallipoli—he’s a mere band-aid in the great scheme of things.  He is as powerless to alter the course of  events in our heartless modern society as Kirkpatrick was to halt the machinery of that dreadful war.  Resurrected ninety years after he was supposed to have died, Simpson and his donkey Murphy travel through rural Victoria trying to help others, but he makes very little difference.  Macauley draws on another persistent myth about Lasseter’s Reef of gold when Simpson’s ‘miraculous’ healing powers are attributed to a vial of Lasseter’s Water.  Which now needs replenishing, hence the quest across Victoria to find some.

Along the way he meets inept would-be suicides: a homeless mother of three trying end it all with the wrong sized hose attached to her car; and a Vietnam Vet trying to hang himself by standing on the back of an angora goat.  Simpson intervenes and goes on his way, only to find a refugee with a story to break your heart; an abused teenager with addiction issues, a former teacher who’s lost his marbles, and saddest of all, Laura, a broken woman whose sufferings haunt the reader long after the book is finished.  Life has been cruel and unfair to all these people, and the society they live has nothing to offer them to alleviate their misery.

This being a satire, there are droll moments, but Simpson’s Donkey is more grim than its predecessors.

Author: Wayne Macauley
Title: Simpson Returns
Publisher: Text Publishing, 2019, 136 pages
Cover design: Design by Committee
ISBN: 9781925773507
Source: Kingston Library

Available from Fishpond: Simpson Returns

 


Responses

  1. […] Simpson Returns by Wayne Macauley (Text Publishing), on my TBR, see my review […]

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  2. I don’t know this author but reading your review he sounds very clever. I would probably like this book as I’m partial to a good down and out plot.(What does that say about me?) I will have Alexa put it on my book list. 🙄🙄🙄

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    • Oops, have I missed something? What’s wrong with liking a plot?

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  3. I feel really remiss that I haven’t yet read Macauley, particularly as I like satire. I was reminded of this the other day when he took part in the annual book debate on the ABC, and one of the opposing side joked about listening to someone who belittled a donkey!

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