Ian Shadwell ‘Slush Pile’ in The Australian

Author of his own demise

Review by Angela Meyer in The Australian 


Sometimes an author will have one big hit and then … nothing. When we meet Michael Ardenne, the antihero of Ian Shadwell’s Slush Pile, it has been more than a decade since he won the Man Booker Prize for his debut novel Ephesus. Now, he is “as dry as an old dog turd”. Instead of writing, he pseudonymously occupies message boards about his own book, watches porn, drinks his cellar dry and leers at the teenage girl next door.

A pile of unopened, unpaid bills for which Michael is responsible is soon noticed by his hardworking wife, Tanya, who has taken over the household finances since the money from Ephesus dried up. Michael clings, pathetically, to the idea of his own literary genius, and resists for as long as possible the idea of getting a job. But Tanya has had enough.

Slush Pile, Shadwell’s first novel, is a rollicking black comedy with an entertainingly unlikable main character. As this selfish, pleasure-seeking, pompous and arrogant man digs a hole for himself, due to the conviction that he is entitled to everything he imagines he could have, the reader both cringes and eggs him on, to see just how far he will go.

When he is forced to take a job installing pink batts in roofs with a couple of “members of the labouring classes’”, he will do anything to escape this work, though he does briefly romanticise the idea of getting dirty with the “common man”, a la George Orwell.

The way out lies in the slush pile of other authors' manuscripts his publisher has sent him to read (for cash). After throwing one of many tantrums, and tossing manuscripts submitted in ridiculous fonts around the room, he comes across one that draws him in. Soon, he begins to write a story very much like it, disregarding any possible consequences…

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