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Barry Oakley: The Craziplane

By one of those amazing coincidences that make reading so much fun I had just reread Uwe Johnson‘s Das dritte Buch über Achim (The Third Book about Achim) before reading this book. While they are very different books, they are both about a writer trying (and ultimately failing) to write a biography of a famous living man, made more complicated by the fact they had/have a relationship with the famous living man’s significant other. But there the similarity ends. Uwe Johnson is writing a serious book while Oakley may have serious intents but goes for the laughs. This is not to undervalue his achievement. His statement on the difficulty of separating life from art are as interesting as Johnson’s but he approaches them in a very different way.

Oakley is a satirist. His opening section on new age bookshops and new ageism in general is worth the price of the book alone (unless, of course, you are a newageist). Michael has just left the new age bookshop and, when offered a new age book as a parting gift, is unable to find one he would want. He leaves to write his novel but cannot get going and when the chance comes to interview famous alternative playwright Frank Minogue (the connection with Australian soap star/singer Kylie Minogue cannot be a coincidence), he willingly accepts. They soon hit if off and when they roll around the floor rehearsing Minogue’s play, Michael, in Minogue’s words, assumes the biographical position and becomes Minogue’s biographer. But it doesn’t really work out, not least because Michael sleeps with both Minogue’s wife and mistress (but particularly the former) which mildly upsets Minogue. We do learn something of Minogue’s history and it gives Oakley a good chance to mock theatre in general and alternative theatre in particular. The book is way too short to explore the theme of life versus art fully as Johnson does but, as always with Oakley, the book is funny, knocks down a few sacred cows and does say something about what makes us tick.

Publishing history

First published 1989 by Hodder and Stoughton