Green Hill Publishing, Australia, 2021
This is a wonderfully funny, wonderfully clever social-political satire that takes a swipe, albeit not a vicious one, at almost every aspect of contemporary life.
Former diplomat Peter Rodgers aimed to write a book with a laugh on every page, and he has succeeded. There is a serious intent and much research in this work, but the humour is what the reader carries away, demonstrating that a skilled hand has directed it.
The premise for the book is the gathering of a number of secondary literary figures, disgruntled because of poor treatment at the hands of their authors. Led by John Watson, the group includes Toto from The Wizard of Oz, E. T. A. Hoffmann’s composer Johannes Kreisler, Melanie Hamilton from Gone with the Wind, Ahab and Starbuck from Moby Dick.
The party is augmented by Kreisler’s publicist Imelda Steinberg, thence to become the marketing chick for the group and by Tom Heyerdahl eco-warrior and fictional son of the famous adventurer and ethnographer Thor Heyerdahl.
Rather than trying to gain support by focusing on their wronged status as literary second runners, the group is persuaded by Imelda to make a peace- loving world-saving voyage across the oceans in Ahab’s new ship the New Pequod. ‘Drop the revenge angle, it’s tiresome. Grudges are a dime a dozen. Saving the world is much nobler, much easier to sell.’
Along the way they encounter challenges like being attacked and held hostage by drug lord Jesus Colera, an assault by some Japanese whalers, the death of a member of their party and the issue of where to perform Kreisler’s now ten hour long Beethoven’s Tenth, on which he has spent the voyage working.
Every challenge becomes a marketing opportunity and every event and relationship an opportunity for the author to satirise aspects of 21st century society. Literary pretentiousness, the expediency of politics, food fads, blogging, marketing spin, big media, social media – amongst many other things come under Peter Rodger’s quite kindly though astute mocking gaze. Amidst it all is a love for the wonder of the English language and all the ways it enhances our lives as readers.
With the voice of Toto via his journal, we enjoy a candid and childlike view of the silliness of human bahviour. The easy narrative style, along with the story’s chuckle worthy and constant action hold the reader’s attention throughout.
What a thoroughly good read this is, especially at a time when so much seems grim. The author proves that there is still lightness to be had even when examining our own foibles. His flawed and unresolved literary characters are a caution to spend some time mirror gazing and perhaps to accept that state of being unresolved ourselves.
A happy ending for most of the cast is a kind of balm, reminding us that no matter our ridiculous error-ridden lives, humour and goodwill can triumph, just like a ten hour long symphony.
Beethoven’s Tenth is available in Canberra bookstores and through online booksellers.
Thank you to Peter Rodgers and Green Hill Publishing for my review copy.