Modern, John Campbell

Full Circle: A Modern Morality Tale
Bob Jones
Hazard Press, $24.95,
ISBN 1877161764

 

Modern Morality Tale.” Let’s begin with those  words.  And of those words, there’s one in particular I really want you to think about: ”Modern”.

“Modern” is a funny word. As a child I had a Raleigh 20 bike. It was, and I can picture it as if it were yesterday, indisputably, unequivocally, singularly modern. That bike was the most modern bike on the road. It was gold and it didn’t have a bell. Imagine that, a bike with no bell. People stopped me in the street to tell me the bell had fallen off, and I would tell them, flushing with pride, that it had never been there in the first place. No Bell! Fancy that. Talk about modern. But my point is, although that bike was “modern” then, nobody, anywhere, would call it “modern” now.

Except, perhaps, for Bob Jones.

Are you with me?

No.

Let me put it another way. Full Circle purports to be a modern morality tale, but the word that best sums it up for me, and it’s the weirdest thing in something so modern, is “quaint”. Which is fine. Almost endearing. But, and here’s the really odd thing, the thing that makes no sense at all, Full Circle does not set out to be “quaint”. On no, not quaint. Read the back cover and you will see five brief reviews from prominent New Zealanders which each offer a kind of promissory note of something more promising than quaint. Something, well, naughty. Something, yes, modern. We are told that we’ll be offended (once), outraged (twice), determined to shoot its author at dawn (once – although once usually does the trick with shootings), catching our breath over its high-octane audacity (once), and laugh, shriek with laughter or die laughing (five times).

You get the picture, I’m sure. A declaration of an intention to be offended, which is also a kind of disclaimer. In short, people who don’t find this book funny must have been offended by it, and anyone who’s offended by it must be some kind of uptight, politically correct wanker. The challenge, of course, is that if you don’t find Full Circle funny, it’s your fault.

Which is fine. But there’s a problem. Two, in fact. First, Full Circle is not offensive; indeed its various, self-conscious, leadenly applied, paint by numbers -isms evoke nothing so much as the Benny Hill Show without the music. Secondly, Full Circle is not funny. Public hangings are funnier. Having your home burgled on Christmas Eve is funnier. The life story of Karen Carpenter is funnier. Full Circle is possibly the least funny book I’ve ever read. Laugh? No, I didn’t actually. But thanks for asking.

So not funny, not offensive, not modern. Quaint. Told you.

Full Circle is the story of, oh, look never mind. I know I should, but it’s all so scout pack sitting round the fire, if you know what I mean. Full Circle should be R18. As in nobody over 18 should read it. What’s that? Oh, okay then. I know this is an august literary periodical, so I’ll give you a very brief plot summation. Geezer, wrong drawer but loaded, fancies gaff but ain’t wadded quite enough, needs brass, fast, so floats a brothel on a Russian cruise liner down in the Antarctic. Scientists (“beards”, they’re called), lonely, horny as anything, root themselves stupid, geezer gets rich, etc, etc, etc.

I’d now like to quote from Full Circle: “Females achieve their peak irrationality at the merest sniff of a full scale wedding.” (p95) Talk about modern. “Women like visiting doctors and talking about themselves … You must remember that they’re all a bit mad and our role’s to humour them.” (p103) How modern can you get.

And then there’s the stuff about why Chinese “girls” are no good in brothels – because they root you so severely you don’t feel like going back for a few days, meaning less return business. True. It’s on p118: “Why do you think there’s one and a half billion Chinese in the world?” Golly. Now that’s modern.

Then there’s the stuff about how the conflict between India and Pakistan is sorted once and for all. It all happens because the hot water from the boat melts the ice and makes everyone think global warming is happening at high speed and that we’re all going to die: “In total, 1,847,231 lives had been lost through the crisis; mainly Bangladeshis, Indians and Pakistanis so nobody minded very much.” And on it goes. Modern, modern, modern.

Yes, we learn that women, “girls”, are a bit silly but all right as long as they can shop, don’t get exposed to weddings and are regularly given placebos by knowing male doctors. And we learn that men are, well, a bit silly, like rooting (“I’ll bet I could bring in a 300lb fat girl and all the beards would want to give her a serve at least once”) and are ever so easily ripped off by self-satisfied rich types who pay no income tax.

Plus, for good measure, and because where would modern be without “wog” jokes, we discover an unknown pygmy tribe called “Wogadoos”. Modern? Cor. Polish off the Raleigh 20, I’m taking it for a spin.

On the back of Full Circle, Deborah Coddington describes Bob Jones as “New Zealand’s funniest and most perceptive writer.” I’ve been completely bewildered by this for weeks.

But now I think I’ve got it sorted. Clearly, this is an archive manuscript, brought out (like my Raleigh 20, or perhaps even the penny farthings in Oamaru) to remind us of how things used to be. That’s it. And those reviews on the back, they must be archive reviews too. They must have been written when the book first came out, a time when this sort of thing was “funny” and “perceptive” and “outrageous” and  “modern”. How brilliant. A sort of time capsule. What a jolly lark.

Thus, with no further ado, I proudly declare Full Circle Book of the Year. For 1971.

 

John Campbell hosts National Radio’s Saturday morning show and is a News announcer for TV 3.

 

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Posted in Fiction, Literature and Review
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