Barry Oakley: A Wild Ass of a Man
James Muldoon reminds me of Jim Dixon, hero of Lucky Jim. There are many differences but, like Jim, he is essentially a man who does not really fit into his milieu, wherever that milieu may be, and makes a mess of trying to do so. Dixon comes out on top; Muldoon does not. Muldoon’s problems, like Dixon’s, can be traced primarily to two sources – women and his respective employers. He starts out in college trying to woo Maria and takes up religion or, rather, theology to do so. But we know, of course, that he has only one aim in mind and, when he persuades her to go nude-bathing, he thinks he has succeeded. But he gets too close and all hell breaks loose and he has to skip town. Next up is Eva, a student at the school where he now has a job. But it is a small town and, as soon as he has had sex with her, everyone knows. Next up he becomes a painter, pretending to be a student of de Kooning and fooling the Melbourne art world that he is a great painter.
And so it goes on. Each time, however, he looks to be getting somewhere, either in his career or love life, he has to make a hurried exit when things go wrong. This could have gone forever but eventually he cracks up and becomes an itinerant preacher and from there on in it is downhill all the way. The jacket blurb describes Muldoon as a chameleon with a poor colour sense but I see him rather as a man out of place, a typical twentieth century man who does not where he should be and where he is going. Oakley is not Kingsley Amis. His style is more direct, more like Amis on speed but what he does well is keep the story moving along but each time gradually dropping his hero deeper into it till the inevitable crucifixion occurs.