Dare me!: the life and work of Gerald Glaskin
Monash University Publishing, $34.95 pb, 349 pp, 9781921867743
Never heard of him – that’s the most common reaction when I mention Gerry Glaskin. Some Western Australians remember him, as they should: he was born and spent his last years there. Yet in between he was a bestselling novelist in the 1950s and 1960s. He was translated into French, German, Swedish, Russian, Spanish, Dutch, Italian, Danish, and Norwegian. Doubleday commissioned him to write a book about northern Australia. He was also a prolific short story writer, with two published collections. All of this is documented in the appendix and reference list of Dare Me! So how and why has Glaskin been erased from the Australian literary consciousness?
That is the question driving John Burbidge’s revealing yet compassionate biography. The conundrum for Glaskin was that he was much more successful outside Australia than within. Australian critics were also very unkind. In reviewing his first novel, A World of Our Own (1955), the Southerly critic, writing only under initials, said Gerry lacked ‘almost all the qualities of the novelist’. Yet the book received a favourable review in The Times and sold 75,000 copies in Norway. Nor did it help that his main claim to literary fame was written under a pseudonym. That book, No End to the Way, was published in 1965 with the author listed as Neville Jackson. Published in London, the novel’s subject matter, homosexuality, caused it to be banned in Australia. But it was Australia’s first gay novel, and it is also a brilliant example of that rarity, a successfully sustained second-person narrative.