Brian Matthews reviews 'Growing Wild' by Michael Wilding

Brian Matthews reviews 'Growing Wild' by Michael Wilding

Growing Wild

by Michael Wilding

Arcadia $39.95 pb, 302 pp, 9781925333107

Undaunted by Joseph Furphy's autodidactic complexities and indulgences, A.D. Hope proposed in his 1974 collection,  Native Companions, Essays and Comments on Australian Literature 1936–1966, that Such Is Life was 'a novel based on a theory of the novel'.

Reading, with great pleasure, Michael Wilding's Growing Wild, it occurred to me that here was a memoir based on a theory of memoir. The theory involves a refusal to pretend to certainty or precision of memory, an insistence on the fluidity of the past as it constantly reconstructs itself in inadequate or tantalisingly partial remembrance of incidents, places, conversations, faces, random yet possibly significant oddities, and so on. Repeatedly Wilding withdraws from a crystallised version of the past that many biographers, for example, used to claim or aspire to, in favour of degrees of uncertainty: 'he seemed a pleasant enough person', he recalls of meeting Morris Shapira. 'Presented himself so, anyway. He proposed we should have dinner together the night before the interview. Perhaps now ... I would decline ... Perhaps his insistence was too strong; perhaps it was my determined openness to experience which I proclaimed at that time ... As it is, I can remember nothing of the experience, where we ate, whether it was after some official sherry party, if such occurred.'

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Brian Matthews

Brian Matthews

Brian Matthews is the author of short stories, essays, and biographies. He was a weekly columnist for the Weekend Australian Magazine (1997–2001) and has been a monthly columnist for Eureka Street since 1997. His memoir A Fine and Private Place (2000) won the inaugural Queensland Premier’s Award for non-fiction and his Manning Clark: A Life (2008) won the National Biography Award in 2010.

Published in August 2016, no. 383