Bernard Cohen’s The Antibiography of Robert F. Menzies

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Just back from the inaugural presentation of the Russell prize for humorous writing at the NSW State Library.

It was a tremendous honour to be asked to help judge this new award with Kathryn Heyman and Paula Tierney (no relation).

Our decision to award the prize to Bernard Cohen’s The Antibiography of Robert F. Menzies was a unanimous one and I was again lucky enough to be asked to write the citation.

‘Pomo with punch lines, Bernard Cohen’s The Antibiography of Robert F. Menzies is a novel in the most elegant state of disassembly. At times a reader might be encountering a novel, a biography, a political satire or the wittiest PhD exegesis there’s ever been. Two of its characters are described at a certain point as ‘Smiling like two schoolboys not busted for anything.’ and the biting wit of this novel busts Australia big time. It busts us as a people so concerned with telling each other how relaxed we are (‘Smile, love – it might never happen!’), that we are revealed as at heart anxious. How we, at the arse end of the globe, are always the last to know. How we tell jokes to take each other down a peg or as an act of self-depreciation to misdirect from a social unease. These small acts of nervy restlessness are indicative of our larger domestic history and how it is forever unsettled with its own self-described ‘eventlessness’. A novel this bursting out with this many surely choreographed elements is impossible to summarise in a single line but if it is about one thing it is about how the brutalities of the past are reduced to a sort of comfort by the virtue of being ‘over’.

The Antibiography of Robert F(ucking) Menzies is the most elegant kick in the teeth we didn’t know we needed.’