Posted by: Lisa Hill | November 3, 2020

Factory 19, by Dennis Glover

Factory 19 is an audacious novel: Dennis Glover is channelling George Orwell!

Written in the same style of unadorned prose (but not quite with Orwell’s economic word count), Glover’s satire on nostalgia for the old economy might have the Occupy Movement in its sights, but it’s also an unabashed critique of the way we have become trapped in the digital economy.

The story is this: in the setting of a very near future, Dundas Faussett a.k.a. D.F., a charismatic man of extreme wealth  sets up Hobart as a model economy, based entirely on how things were in the pre-digital age which he has designated as 1948.  (Yes, the inverse of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four). His fiefdom has no laws, only his vision and his powerful will.  (Which is eventually challenged by an increasingly fractious wife who is less tolerant and more wary of subversion than he is).  The new society at Factory 19 operates like an idealised version of the postwar era: everyone has a job in his factories—which use materials and methods from 1948, to make products from 1948, for people who work in the old hierarchical worker-and-boss structures… with pay and conditions that can only be dreamed of in today’s gig economy.

The story is narrated by Paul Richey, who was recovering on lo-tech Bruny Island after a nervous breakdown caused by working for a politician in the always-available relentlessly-digital demands of the 24/7 news cycle.

Surrounded by my wind-up mechanical clock, AM-FM radio, vinyl long-playing records, cassette player, books and the weekly printed broadsheet they flew in for me from overseas, my mind slowly recovered.  Like a soldier back from war, I still had the occasional nightmare.  For example, I would sometimes kick out in my sleep against imaginary robotic vacuums that were cornering me.  But the simple therapy of living as my grandparents once had worked wonders.  And after three years of such safety — I’ll skip over that almost entirely uneventful period to save the reader — I found myself ready to return, tentatively, to civilisation.  I couldn’t yet live surrounded by the digital economy, so rather than send me to a modern city, they sent me to Hobart.

Before I offend any residents of that fine city, now recovering from all the trouble that followed, I’d better explain what I mean.

After Dundas Faussett closed GoFA, it caused the city’s economy to fall like a Concorde with empty fuel tanks.  The sort of decline that had taken a couple of decades to ruin the world’s once-great industrial cities wrecked Hobart in a matter of months.  (p.28)

And what was GoFA?  Reminiscent of Hobart’s MoNA and the dependence of Tassie’s tourism industry on it, GoFA is D.F.’s Gallery of Future Art, the plaything of this whimsical uber-wealthy man who became bored with making money which is obviously how a lot of billionaires problems begin.  D.F. had made his fortune with an algorithm that broke the world’s sovereign lotteries, (on which governments rely to fund all kinds of things that used to be funded by taxation). He joins the ranks of Bezos, Zuckerberg, Gates, Musk et al), and returns to Hobart to set up his vision of an Arcadia, where everyone is happier without the internet, email, iStuff, and processed food.  People flock to live there because there is also no insecure work or gig economy, and unions have a respected place in protecting pay and conditions.

Only, of course, there are flaws in a society without modern medicine, controls on pollution, gender equity and diversity reforms, and Glover deftly drops the allusions here and there so that the Orwellian contempt for sloganeering, bureaucracy, and totalitarianism emerges.  As in Animal Farm, authorities have privileges denied to the workers, and there comes a time when revolutionary idealism morphs into ends justifying means.

It’s very cleverly done, and the tension in the concluding chapters is all the more compelling for being so unexpected.  I suspect this book might make a lively film…

The cover design by Regine Abos is sheer genius.

Author: Dennis Glover
Title: Factory 19
Cover design by Regine Abos
Publisher: Black Inc, (Schwarz Media) 2020
ISBN: 9781760641764, pbk., 368 pages
Review copy courtesy of Black Inc.

Available from Fishpond: Factory 19 and direct from Black Inc or your favourite indie bookshop.

 


Responses

  1. A time warp. This does sound like an interesting premise, albeit exhausting the thought of re-imagining all that.

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    • If there’s a flaw in this novel, it’s that he has gone into great detail in recreating the era, e.g. clothes and haircuts (which we’ve all seen in the movies, so we don’t need that detail) instead of leaving some of it to the imagination.
      But I admit, I looked around the bedroom as I was reading it, and identified the items that were digital e.g. the alarm clock, the CD player for audiobooks and did think, I could get by quite happily without those. I would dearly love to be back in the days without a mobile phone…

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      • The mobile phone has become such a menace, recently I just had to go in and switch off all notifications, the next morning, utter peace. I use the ‘Do not Disturb’ button every day, it’s so invasive.

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        • Lately, it’s seemed almost compulsory to have one. There’s a Covid app you have to have, to let you know if you’ve been in contact with someone who’s been diagnosed positive, and that would be a good thing if I were in the habit of taking my phone with me when I go out…
          And then there’s the campaign to have people register in shops and cafes using Q-codes so that they can do contact tracing. I had to do this at the podiatrist the other day, and it was just luck I had my phone, because they only unlock the door after they’ve received the notification that you’ve done it. I don’t mind the registering, of course, but I don’t like my data being collected like that for privacy reasons. I much prefer to fill in a register by hand.

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          • Oh my goodness that sounds dire.
            I’ve only encountered that once here, but being France it was the good old pen and paper system.

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            • Much more reliable, IMO. But some people are just too lazy to do it.

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  2. An interesting premise, not that I think 1948 is the opposite of 2020, or in any way desirable. In 1955 which is about as far back as I remember, we had dunny cans, ice chests and cool safes instead of fridges, TB and Polio, a beige mono-culture, and terrible haircuts. The real opposite is just as we were becoming adults, when we had proper social security, a respect for democracy, universal free education and we weren’t owned by the wealthiest 1%.

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    • Well, I can’t comment on that without giving away spoilers, and since I think you’re going to want to read this one, I won’t do that!
      PS I think (and I tender my photo album as proof) that haircuts were worse in the 1980s.

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      • Lisa, I think we must be about the same age because I had the identical hair cut to you in your pic!

        I agree about mobile phones, I have an elderly friend with dementia and she can text & ring me dozens of times in an hour. I

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        • Yikes, that would be a bit difficult to put up with…

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    • Bill, your comment is superb. I wish I could print it out and pin it up somewhere.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I too benefited from free (almost) higher education- and of course before that. Many girls were prevented from going to university, however, by parents who considered it a waste of money – they were destined to become housewives, after all…

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    • Yeah, I don’t think that 1948 would have been a great year.
      But the early 70s weren’t great either, not for women in Australia.

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  4. And another book is added to my list ….

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