Posted by: Lisa Hill | November 26, 2021

Caravan Story, by Wayne Macauley

I’ve been ‘saving’ this novel.  I really like Wayne Macauley’s biting satires, but he’s only published six of them and his second novel Caravan Story,  was the last one left on my TBR.  Now *sigh* I have to wait until he publishes a new one…

(You can see my review of the others here.)

Nominated for the Readings Prize, Caravan Story was first published in 2007, but reissued in 2012 by Text Publishing.  This novella skewers the commodification of ‘culture’ in Australia, deftly exposing the way that it’s only the arts administrators who can make a living in this country, and not the artists, actors, writers and musicians on whose work they depend…

This is the blurb from the Text website:

The first caravans arrive in a convoy. Wayne Macauley’s narrator, Wayne Macauley, is in one of them. He’s one of the artists removed from his home, given a new place to live and the chance to ‘give back to society’. In his strange new community, housed on a footy oval in a faraway country town, he is given his task. To create and be useful. To be thankful for the opportunity. He decides he will not give in to his misgivings; he will write. Then he finds out about the rejection slips already written for the work he has yet to submit…


One morning, the narrator, (whose name is Wayne) is asleep with his girlfriend in a squat, when he’s woken by a bulldozer which has begun demolishing the house.  Unperturbed, he makes love to her quietly and goes back to sleep, only to wake up later in a nightmare.  Along with a crowd of other unsuccessful arts-funding applicants, he is expelled from the city by caravan, and ends up in a sports oval repurposed as a caravan park, where Polly the sexy arts administrator pulls them all into line.  The actors are hived off into one group, the artists are another; there’s a group of musicians, and then there are the writers.  Polly knows that the writers are going to be difficult because they are the only group for whom she has to set up a game to help them break the ice…

Under her instructions we arrange our chairs in a circle and then one of us is given a ball, a medium-sized plastic ball with a tropical fruit motif on it.  The person must throw the ball to someone else in the circle, but only, as we realise after two false starts, only after saying the first sentence of a story.  The person who catches the ball must then provide the next sentence and so on.  It’s a story game, says Polly.  The first player is an elderly man with a grey beard and his sentence is: As I walked out that day the air was crisp and clear.  When it gets to me my sentence is: She took me by the hand and led me down the steps.  It seems to go on forever.  Polly has left us to our own devices and and gone over to the painters, we don’t know whether we are supposed to find our own ending or wait till she comes back. (p.17)

Wayne can see that his partner is having a fine old time with the actors, when Polly comes back to marshall the writers into order.  She provides them with a list of topics to write about, with instructions to choose a second preference in case their first choice is taken, and Wayne selects ‘A Short History of Laburnum’, a suburb not far from where he grew up.  (This is typical of the kind of lame subject that writers (or arts administrators) without much experience of reading tend to think will be interesting to other readers.  I am pretty sure that the only people conceivably interested in the history of Laburnam are people who live/d there. And even then, there won’t be many of them.)

But they don’t all cooperate like sheep:

Some people take a long time over their choices; others, not many though, seem to be treating the whole thing as a joke.  Polly has already made a mental note of these people and deliberately distracts herself when one of them giggles over the list.  If the game had created a sense of camaraderie then already it is dissipating; sideways glances are being exchanged, some older members have become deliberately aloof, they fill in their name and pass on the sheet without looking at their neighbour, while still others look confused and afraid they may do the wrong thing. (p.18)

Wayne, who is dreamy and vague, christens his fellow-conscripts with the names of famous authors to help him remember who they are: Jane Austen, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Elizabeth Jolley,  Jorge Luis Borges, and Georg Buchner.

Wayne’s girlfriend initially goes along with this charade along with the rest of the actors, and gets quite testy with Wayne because he doesn’t get anything done.  So that they can be together, she wangles a role for Wayne as a dramaturg for the theatre group which is soon to go on tour in regional areas.

But Wayne, like me, doesn’t know what a dramaturg is supposed to do.  Unlike me, he didn’t have access to Wikipedia:

A dramaturge or dramaturg is a literary adviser or editor in a theatre, opera, or film company who researches, selects, adapts, edits, and interprets scripts, libretti, texts, and printed programmes (or helps others with these tasks), consults authors, and does public relations work.

But even when enlightened as to his task, he drifts off into other thoughts instead of paying attention, and then puts everybody offside by making an impassioned speech about how scripting is not in the spirit of improvisation. This does not endear him to his partner.

Truly, I loved this book, and although it was written nearly fifteen years ago, it’s more relevant than ever.  There are still hordes of wannabe writers who don’t actually have anything to write about (some of whom cheerfully admit that they themselves don’t actually read books); the writing schools are still churning out endless graduates (some of whom, if they’re lucky will get jobs teaching other people to be writers or running writers’ festivals); and the market for Australian books is still far too small to support the number of people who are fruitlessly applying for grants from an arts council with ever declining sums of money to dispense.  I have boundless admiration for the authors and publishers, who somehow rise above all this to produce wonderful books which bring pleasure to readers like me.

I read Caravan Story for #NovNov (Novellas in November) hosted by Rebecca from Bookish Beck and Cathy at 746 Books and for #AusReadingMonth at Brona’s This Reading Life.

Author: Wayne Macauley
Title: Caravan Story
Cover art: Untitled, 2006, by David Ralph, cover design by Gail Hannah
Publisher: Black Pepper, 2007*
ISBN: 9781876044534, pbk., 145 pages
Source: Personal library, purchased from Readings $24.95.

*This title, and all of Macauley’s other novels are now published by Text.


Responses

  1. This sounds like fun. I read The Cook, his satire about chefs and loved it! I recommended it to so many people. I hate the pretentiousness of food and foodie TV shows, and this skewered it all beautifully.

    Like

    • We like cooking shows, but I loved The Cook. His satires are so clever, never overdone, and wickedly funny.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I am so tempted. I’ve not (yet) read any of his work.

    Like

    • Hmm, which one to start with? The Cook, I think, it’s my absolute favourite.

      Like

      • I’ve just borrowed ‘The Cook’ and ‘Some Tests’.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I loved Some Tests…
          I tried to tell my GP about it, but haha! she didn’t think it was funny….

          Like

  3. […] Wayne Macauley | Caravan Story (reviewed by Lisa @ANZ LitLovers) […]

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  4. I haven’t heard of Wayne Macauley Lisa, but our library (I just checked) has Some Tests. I think I will enjoy that!

    I just read the first chapter of Blueprints for a Barbed Wire Canoe thanks to the link on your review of it. I’m sure there was an article on a new outer suburb of Melbourne in the SMH recently that had been abandoned without promised rail connect!ion to the city and not a tree in sight. The poor residents said the summer heat was unbearable, they were lonely, had no facilities, and nearly a two hour drive to the city for work. Sounds rather like the new suburbs here which are marooned when the one and only road in/out is in under flood from the Macquarie River – the current La Nina means this is almost weekly.

    When I was living in Sydney I took in lodgers (students) for a while from the nearby university. One young woman (doing a creative writing course) was intending to give up her teaching career to be a full time novelist. I did tell her what the typical annual income of a a published writer in Australia was, but she was indifferent, telling me she’d write a best seller. She didn’t actually read much: I did offer her access to my (then ample) book collection but she never imbibed. I’ve never heard of her since; I do hope she kept on teaching.

    Thanks for putting me on to yet another Australian author!

    Like

    • My experience with Wannabe writers was rather dispiriting. I was doing Professional Writing and Editing to beef up my editing skills (I was copyediting my husband’s work at the time), and as part of the course I had to do a semester of short story writing. My fellow students didn’t even read the short, short stories that were set texts, and their own efforts were inane. And they were soooo confident that they were going to be writers!
      I do like to see young people being confident, but some of these needed a reality check and a lot of them were lazy.

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  5. I loved The Cook and this one sounds up my alley.

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    • And the good thing is, his whole backlist is still available.

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