Ian Shadwell, ‘Slush Pile’ in ABR

Ian Shadwell, Slush Pile

Review by Doug Wallen in the Australian Book Review, November 2014

Billed as ‘a satire of literary ambition’, Ian Shadwell’s début novel chronicles the misadventures of Michael Ardenne, an Australian author who has been riding the coattails of his Booker Prize-winning first book for more than a decade. Content for years to drain every last drop of goodwill from the book industry, not to mention his long-suffering wife, he has never bothered to pen a follow-up.

Instead, he has drunk his way into considerable debt and now spends his days browsing Internet porn and anonymously puffing up his own Wikipedia entry. A musician, painter, and rock and art critic, Shadwell hits many of the right buttons with this very recognizable portrait of buffoonery.

The plot of Slush Pile  may be similar to that of Ian McEwan’s Solar  (2010), which also revolves around an unlikable prize winner who is both hilariously petty and morally bankrupt, but Shadwell is funny enough to carve out his own space. If they are not always the most original laughs – Ardenne is always ‘needing a drink’ with burning urgency, while his wife ‘did not suffer fools lightly. Sadly, he was a fool’ – he wrings consistent amusement from his protagonist’s vanity and selfishness.

Shadwell does manage to locate sympathetic notes in Ardenne, such as when he finds himself reduced to a trivia answer at his local RSL. Shadwell also steers the story into much darker territory when Ardenne’s plagiarising of another writer’s work triggers violent consequences. The tonal shifts succeed for the most part, and Ardenne keeps one entertained as he blunders his way through book festivals, his first brush with manual labour, and pitiful attempts at infidelity.

Beneath the laughs, meanwhile, Shadwell illuminates that perennial distinction between ‘literary fiction’ and a ‘page-turner … with broad appeal’.

Doug Wallen

Read this review in The Australian Book Review

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