Robert Dessaix knows his readers better than almost any other writer in Australia. He has met many of them personally at festivals over many years after developing an intense intimacy with them as a radio broadcaster. He has groupies who find him so captivating that I have heard them say after his public appearances than they’d like to pop him in their pocket and take him home. But Robert is not a pet. He is a flesh and blood writer who tackles big themes with erudition, elegance, literary grace and sharp, sometimes arch wit. He has a European old world sensibility and does not entirely belong in this century; he is a time traveler who belongs in another, more subtle, less vulgar era.
As one of our great stylists, Dessaix has a singular, distinctive voice and manner, a light yet profound touch addressing literary wanderings together with musings on art, love, friendship. It’s a potently attractive cocktail. But that cocktail got shaken rather than stirred when Robert had not one but two close encounters with death a couple of years ago.
Not surprisingly that prompted him to re-assess his life and ask what it was all for. This collection of essays is the result and I am happy to say it announces a sparkling, tender and invigorated return to form. It’s a precious reminder of what is to be cherished and what can be jettisoned when one is faced with one’s own mortality.
Sprinkled with musings on spiritual matters, Dessaix never allows himself to slip into the annoying waftiness of so much writing about the non-material realm. No: he is firmly anchored, indeed at times tethered, to his hospital bed, his home and the world around him, as he considers the Big Themes of his own life and ours with the laser-like attention of a gemologist considering a precious stone.
Before we get swept up in the end of year inane festivities of mindless consumption, over-shopping and over-eating, it’s good to refocus attention on the essentials.
In the end, as Dessaix recognises and reminds us, all you need is love.
by Robert Dessaix
Witty, acerbic, insightful musings from Robert Dessaix, one of Australia’s finest writers.
One Sunday night in Sydney, Robert Dessaix collapses in a gutter in Darlinghurst, and is helped to his hotel by a kind young man wearing a T-shirt that says FUCK YOU. What follows are weeks in hospital, tubes and cannulae puncturing his body, as he recovers from the heart attack threatening daily to kill him.
While lying in the hospital bed, Robert chances upon Philip Larkin’s poem ‘Days’. What, he muses, have his days been for? What and who has he loved – and why?
This is vintage Robert Dessaix. His often surprisingly funny recollections range over topics as eclectic as intimacy, travel, spirituality, enchantment, language and childhood, all woven through with a heightened sense of mortality.
About the Contributor
Andrew Cattanach is a regular contributor to The Booktopia Blog. He has been shortlisted for The Age Short Story Prize and was named a finalist for the 2015 Young Bookseller of the Year Award. He enjoys reading, writing and sleeping, though finds it difficult to do them all at once.
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