Recently I read Half a Yellow Sun, and it got me thinking about Alexandra Fuller, another African writer – although she no longer lives in Africa, in case you’re wondering. I like Fuller’s work more. And I’ve come to realise that it’s because it’s white and post-colonial. And so am I. Although technically, of course, I’m not post-colonial, because Australia is still a British colony.
Which brings me to my next problem with using terms like post-colonial: I’ve got a sneaking suspicion they might be academic fuckspeak. Or are they? Fuller’s work resonates with me in a way that Adichie’s doesn’t, and, as much as I like to think that shameless nostalgia and scene-setting is secondary to the serious messages presented in books like Fuller’s and Adichie’s, it isn’t.
Simply, I was unmoored by Adichie’s Nigeria. I found myself falling back into facile judgements of the bits of her writing that did hit home – the tittering romances, the purple prose, judgements that I am sure overlooked the sophisticated elements of the book. Fuller’s writing on the other hand feels more real to me, and that’s for no other reason than that it is evocative. It taps into something I feel like home. Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight has something that speaks to an Anglo-Australian experience, the half-arsed and half-pissed, grimy, dusty and cobbled together. Reading her work brings in the faint smell of perfume dissolved in a thin film of animal fat and smoke, lingering in the pinched-up salt-cellar of your collarbone, under the baked filth of a cotton shirt. It’s in the language, the nailed-up half-speak of an Empire running on fumes. For an Australian, this resonates, it’s the [English] of tea, chores and steeping sweat.
I’m not so sure about her second book, Scribble the Cat. Scribble the Cat is about renegade soldiers, left over from a series of complicated wars and confused insurgencies. I’m uncomfortable with the way she lionises men with severe mental health issues, but there’s also a raw truth and honesty about their situation, and again, the men are familiar to me.
Mental health, especially in the aftermath of war, is socially proscribed up to a point – there’s something utterly native about its condition, the inability to slot seamlessly back into a suburban existence of suncream, laundry baskets and chippies down the back of the seat. In war, any kind of war, this veneer is quickly rattled off, revealing ordinary life as a surreal pantomime, a multitude of strings, all glaringly visible and gossamer thin. Fuller’s soldiers make lives for themselves in the bush, rendering a half-arsed, utilitarian morality of fundamentally broken men, where normality is to be found in the blind space of strong alcohol. Fuller draws a picture I can understand.