Cover of Diary of a Dwarf
Diary of a Dwarf; Four Novellas
Graham Henderson

Henderson is back in fine form

Kate Macdonell, Australian Book Review
Henderson’s bizarre humour reminds us of our own comicality. These novellas reek of the insane and the unrequitedly erotic
Robert Verdon, Muse
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Book Description
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 of a Dwarf extends the reach of that stunning debut.

Ironmonger, the dwarf of the title novella, is an inventor of unlikely 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. Story-telling 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 anti-novel like 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 significant writer.

ISBN 064624048X
Published 1995
178 pgs
Diary of a Dwarf book sample

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Diary of a Dwarf
Foote’s Last Stand
Nocturnal Emanations of Fish

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Fiction Shorts
Kate Macdonell (academic)
Australian Book Review, No. 180, May 1996

When Graham Henderson’s first novel, The Mountain, was 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 ‘difficult’ 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 don’t be put off if you’re not into pain. Readers who simply wish to engage with Henderson’s depictions of paranoid and schizoid subjectivities, 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 leave ‘commonsensical’ concepts like credibility and logic outside the front cover.

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Robert Verdon
Muse (Canberra), No. 152, June 1996

Graham Henderson’s bizarre 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 Yiddish?) dialect:

I am zee 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 very far since the Absurdism of the 1940s.

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Launch Speech

Daniel Keene (playwright)

I must confess that I am here 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 asked me 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 revealed 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 - joyfully or uncomfortably.

Graham's stories are a challenge - three divinely human comedies and a 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 of a Dwarf 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 faith.

I have always been proud to know Graham - he has taught me a great deal 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.

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