October 30, 2006

Man Alone

"That's a bloody interesting story, son. I didn't know I was entertaining such a bloody interesting fellow." So goes bushman Bill Crawley's response to Johnson's tale, following his emergence after months spent in hiding traversing the dense forest of the Kaimanawa ranges. It's a line that stood out for me, because it's certainly true.

I'd never heard of John Mulgan's 'Man Alone' before last week. The boss referred to it in passing, and went so far as to write the title down. It appealed to me, so I got it from the library on Saturday and jumped right in. Remember enjoying a book so much that you really look forward to the next time you can pick it up? It's been a while since that happened. Dad says it's a New Zealand classic.

I found 'Man Alone' fascinating. The protagonist Johnson emigrates to New Zealand after World War 1, in his early twenties, and proceeds to spend the next twelve or so years drifting around the country, settling for a year or two, working at various farming and labouring type jobs. He seems content to live in an almost hand-to-mouth fashion, and the question that I couldn't see past (what can the future hold for someone like Johnson?) never appears to worry him. Nothing really worries him, apart from the threat of losing his freedom - "the freedom to go and work and to live where he liked." He seems to have no ambition whatsoever, rather his MO is to "keep on working and moving, it's the hard work for the good time and never stay long anywhere". His world view moves eventually from an appreciation of a simple and largely solitary country life to a desire to be a part of something, and the narrative closes as he sets out for the war in Spain.

I don't quite know why I found the novel so fascinating. I suppose it's the starkly unsentimental prose, maybe it's the context of my country's political history that I probably studied at university but can remember nothing of, likely it's the passing resemblance to those of my acquaintance who seem to favour an itinerant lifestyle. Johnson is someone whom I can't imagine understanding.

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2 Comments:

Anonymous Greg said...

I've never heard of it, but I'm off to have a look on Amazon right now.

Thanks for the link. I'll let you know what I think.

Cheers.

10:08 AM  
Anonymous Jimmy said...

That kind of man used to be reasonably common around NZ. At least where I am from anyway. I remember some old farmer friends of my folks telling us that back in the day they would have huts that any swagmen could just come and stay in, and if there was work they got it, otherwise they moved on again.

8:35 PM  

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