Posted by: Lisa Hill | May 25, 2023

Naked Ambition (2023), by Robert Gott

If you’re in the mood for some daft, light-hearted fun, Robert Gott’s Naked Ambition may be just what you need to lift your spirits during this rather grim phase in our nation’s psyche.

Briefly, the plot is this.  A state politician called Gregory takes it into his head to commission his portrait from an ambitious artist intent on winning the Archibald Prize.  The larger-than-lifesize portrait, when it is revealed to his startled family, shows him not in the obligatory suit with a tie in the party colours, and not in hail-fellow-well-met casual gear, but naked.  Full frontal.  Completely naked.

Even before the state premier Louisa Whitely makes a surprise visit to advise him that he’s been elevated to the ministry because of some inopportune scandal about to derail the election campaign — there are objections to the mere existence of this portrait.  His wife Phoebe, a PR agent, warns against the (pardon the pun) exposure of the portrait; and Joyce, his MIL, a Bible-bashing fundamentalist, thinks it’s an abomination. His own mother Margaret amuses herself by sardonically baiting the religious fanatic, and his sister Sally (the only one who knows anything about the cutting-edge reputation of the artist) isn’t impressed by depictions of the naked male because she’s gay. (Yes, the comedy does rely on stereotypes.  The clodhopper copper is another one, completely unfair to the detective who lives next door to me, she’s as sharp as a razor.)

The repartee between this lot is full of witty one-liners, which ramp up when the painting is stolen.  Who by? Hardly anybody knows about its existence.  What’s to stop photos of it going viral if it’s got into the wrong hands? And how can the artist be placated when the work she’s created to win a valuable prize goes missing?

Amid the chuckles, we might ponder some of the questions raised by this comic novel.  Is it ever ok to destroy a work of art? Who ‘owns it’, the artist, the sitter, or the purchaser? Is a nude portrait ‘about’ the subject or about the art, and why — in an age where people get their kit off for mass photographs of nudity — is a nude portrait of a politician death to his career?

Here’s an excerpt with my favourite one-liner:

— Gregory moved in front of the picture and faced the four women ranged before it.

‘Forget that it’s me, Louisa.  Forget that it’s someone you know.  Imagine you’d come upon it in a gallery.  What do you think of it as a work of art?’

Louisa hadn’t risen to be premier by being vague about her responses to things.  She was a pragmatic person.

‘I can’t forget that it’s you, Gregory.  It’s obviously, ostentatiously you.  Its value as a work of art comes a distant second to that simple, inarguable fact.  It’s you, and you’re nude.’

‘You have a female nude on the wall in your office.  You’re not going to tell me you disapprove of the nude in art.’

‘It’s a Picasso, and most people think it’s a cucumber.’ (p.85)

Robert Gott is the author of crime novels and the cartoonist behind the newspaper cartoon The Adventures of Naked Man.  (BTW, be careful if you Google that, you may get images you’re not prepared for.)

See also the review at The Newtown Review of Books. 

Author: Robert Gott
Title: Naked Ambition
Publisher: Scribe Publications, 2023
Cover design by  Scribe
ISBN: 9781922585967, pbk.,256 pages
Review copy courtesy of Scribe



  1. Daft light-hearted fun? Yes, I’m in the mood :-)


  2. Love your Google warning Lisa. I haven’t read Gott but he was one of four Aussie crime writers who did a promotional road trip in the USA a few years ago, and was the only one I hadn’t heard of, but he came across as a bit of a hoot like they all did actually. I do want to read one, one day.


    • Robert Gott was one of those marvellous people who got the Yarra Valley LitFest up and running with a quick pivot online during one of our lockdowns. He chaired some of the panels too, as you can see in my reports of the festival.


      • I probably didn’t notice the chair names Lisa … though I posted on that festival too … but good for him.


        • Awww. (speaking as an occasional chair myself), I reckon it’s the chair who keeps the conversation rolling along!


          • They do … and are important. I just don’t always remember them if they are not a name already known to me. My bad!

            Liked by 1 person

  3. It does sound fun! I’ve just read another fun book… surreal, quirky and kinda silly satire actually… called “The Terrible Event” and I loved it. Just suited my mood perfectly.


    • I’ve got that one on my TBR too, good to hear it’s fun… it’s what we need right now!


      • Arrived unsolicited, started to read and ended up finishing the entire thing in a day (I was off work)


  4. I think if the politician commissioned the painting then he owns it.
    You’d have to be pretty self-assured to pull off (oops, another pun) a naked portrait, but would it be career destroying? We made fun of T Abbott for being photographed in budgie smugglers (and A Downer in heels and fishnets) but I don’t imagine it changed even one vote.


    • Well, there’s a reference (which I assume is true) to Winston Churchill’s wife who destroyed a portrait of him that she didn’t like.
      But I dunno, suppose you or I (after winning Tatts) buy some iconic work of art that the whole world admires, and we die and leave it to someone who doesn’t value it, is it ok for them to destroy it? I don’t know how to define it but I think there can be a point when something belongs to the world rather than the individual.
      I think you’re probably right about the kind of image-making that people care/don’t care about. There would be people who’d automatically not vote to a pollie who spent $10,000 on the vanity of a portrait when there are so many people in need, but that’s not the same as having the vote influenced by nudity per se.


  5. Dashing off to look for a copy….


  6. This one is on my list and I’m looking forward to reading it.


  7. I hope you enjoy it!


  8. This sounds so much fun! I can imagine it could be adapted really well too, with a cast who can carry off the one-liners.


  9. That’s a great one-liner about the Picasso – I’m sold!


    • I keep imagining it as a line in a play, with the four characters strategically standing in front of the painting…

      Liked by 1 person

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