With his novel The Mountain
Graham Henderson was recognized as ‘a
new novelist of very remarkable
power’ (Stephen Knight) and the novel as having ‘shimmering and magical
power’ (Helen Daniel). Diary
Dwarf extends the reach of that stunning debut.
Ironmonger, the dwarf of the title novella, is an
board games. Foote, of ‘Foote’s Last
Stand’, is either a 117 year old
neglected novelist or failed pornographer. Boot is factotum to Dr
Hieronymous Bladder, a psychiatrist in improbable disguise, pursued by
his patients Bones and Ophul. In these novellas Henderson takes comedic
invention to its extreme; he reveals the tragic scope of the clown.
‘Nocturnal Emanations of Fish’ tells
many stories in one.
is a ploy to stave off the narrator’s suicide. The
‘death of the
author’ is declared from within. De Sade is a wimp, the
Jane Austen when the demented author makes his final great plea for
sanity. His control is extraordinary.
‘Fish’ alone would confirm Henderson
as a radical and
Kate Macdonell (academic) Australian Book Review, No. 180, May 1996
novel, The Mountain,
published and subsequently short-listed for The Age Book of the
Year Award in
1989, many reviewers both noted its thematic investment in the bizarre,
the uncanny and the ambiguous, and commended its ambitiously
self-reflexivc and polysemantic qualities. It was seen as a
book - but one which was intellectually rewarding to read.
Textual martyrs and masochists alike will be pleased to learn that with
this collection of novellas Henderson is back in fine form. But
be put off if you’re not into pain. Readers who simply wish
with Henderson’s depictions of paranoid and schizoid
his language games and/or his often parodic representations of the
unconscious, may also find this book tempting.
The novellas in this collection focus on several repulsive, impotent
and incredible male characters. In ‘Diary of a
Dwarf’, a self-obsessed
dwarf named Ironmonger records ‘tall stories’ about
his life and in
‘Boot’ the eponymous anti-hero acts as the
maladroit ‘side-kick’ of
Doctor Hieronymous Bladder - a man who not only has an inclination
towards parapraxis and a penchant for tugging at the rubber genitalia
on the ape-suit he wears, but one who also fears that two of his former
patients are plotting his destruction.
‘Foote’s Last Stand’ constitutes the
edited memoirs of an arguably
pornographic writer, Silas Foote, and in ‘Nocturnal
Emanations of Fish’
- the most compositionally experimental and compelling novella in the
collection - the unnamed protagonist obsessively writes lurid stories
about the many characters who cramp his bleak and murderous mind.
Although ‘Boot’, for example, is somewhat tedious,
the collection as a
whole is worth consideration - but just remember that if you do decide
to broach this host of postmodern imaginings, you’ll need to
‘commonsensical’ concepts like credibility and
logic outside the front
Robert Verdon Muse (Canberra), No. 152, June 1996
humour reminds us of our own comicality. These novellas reek of the
insane and the unrequitedly erotic.
‘Diary of a Dwarf’ is the tale of
a monomaniacal midget called Ironmonger whose chief interests are
voyeuristic sex and boardgames of his own devising.
Prejudice against his ‘dwarfishness’ and
derangement place him
outside adult or even human society. As a result, he is guileful yet
artless, noting in his diary that ‘in the game of life
I’m a complete
novice.’ Aren’t we all.
‘Boot’ explores the combative
relationship between a male nurse called (curiously) Boot and a
paedophilic psychiatrist named Dr Bladder, both besieged by
enantiomorphic mental patients (also male). Boot creaks on in timeless
subordinate confusion, while Bladder lashes out at him with
professional arrogance. The result is superb satire.
I winced, though, at the Goonish bits in pseudo-German (or
Viennese gynaecologen, Herr doktor Shtekel, at your zervice.
Ach du lieber! Ich
kann nicht sage mehr dann gerblunden!
‘Foote’s Last Stand’, about the
podiatrically tragic past of a 117 year old writer of
erotica-cum-pornography, is funnier still. A parody of literary
autobiography, it will appeal to struggling novelists. Silas Foote has
been writing for 80 years and published only eight books. Perhaps that
is a good thing.
The final offering, ‘Nocturnal Emanations
of Fish’ is written in disjointed phrases
separated by ellipses. Its terminal bleakness is wearying.
The ‘hero’, again a mad, ageing author (one is
reminded of this
reviewer), is trapped in the prison-house of his own sinister words. He
sentences us to many pointless labyrinthal narratives.
these words all
that matter ... these words ... all that keep me from suicide ...
Arresting stuff, but I sometimes wonder whether we’ve come
far since the Absurdism of the 1940s.
I must confess that I am
rather uncertainly. Graham has asked me
to say something of and for his book, Diary
of a Dwarf, on this the occasion of its launch. He has
and I have accepted the privilege because we have known each other for
going on twenty years. So I owe him this embarasment. The story
of those 'best of times, worst of times' years will be
in some hopefully posthumous essay by some dusty and sore assed
obsessive many years from now; probably on the internet. But for the
moment here I am, there you are, and I am to say something. There is
both too much and nothing to say. There is nothing to say about the
book because it speaks so eloquently, with such knowing craft and such
generosity, with, dare I say it, such love, that anything I might say
of it will be a reduction - into the 'easy-speak' of the commentator -
that creature of second-hand experience, reporting the marvels he or
she has encountered in language always so much less than that in which
those marvels were first revealed. Unhappily I am a mere reader, and
not a member of the academy, those benighted and financially secure
critics who float on the wine dark sea of their favourite cabernet,
denizens of all that is holy (in a postmodern sort of way) and all that
is correct - and Diary
of a Dwarf
is not correct in any shape or form. It is an act of the imagination -
a locally unheard of event and punishable by gross indifference -
rather the regurgitated gossip of we the colonized than an act of
imagination - because, darling, imagination is dangerous. Graham
Henderson is a dangerous writer, that danger is something to face alone
- that laughter, that despair, that crossing of the holy with the
profane, will be a private matter for the reader; as it should be, as
it was meant to be in its creation.
Any yet there is also too much to say. Because the book demands
attention - it demands attention by the face of its execution, by its
desire, by the face of its love - I will keep using that word love -
that word so impossible, for which there is no critical language, to
which the only responses available will reveal us -
Graham's stories are a challenge - three divinely human comedies
slice of genuine pain. They are beautifully crafted and openly offered.
They ask us to see beyond and yet (or perhaps therefore) to see within
ourselves. They are stories, finally, of profound compassion - and this
compassion has been achieved
- through difficult times, at enormous cost, the product of a labour
embarked upon with a great deal of faith and humility.
The four novellas in Diary
are there to delight us - but this delight can also cause us pain - in
this contradiction Graham has offered us a rare beauty - an act of
I have always been proud to know Graham - he has taught me a great
about writing, about the labour and the love of it. In knowing him I
consider myself fortunate.
These four novellas are works of dignity and intelligence, offered
generously. They'll take us on a journey, in the course of which games
will be played, villians revealed and reviled, sorrow will sometimes
descend, and hot water bottles will be dreamed of - often, forgiveness
will be offered and love, even if it is hopeless love. Confered as our
right and our privilege.