Veteran Australian comedic writer Nick Earls is back with his 14th novel, Analogue Men. Best known for writing books such as Bachelor Kisses and Zigzag Street, romantic comedies aimed at women in their late teens and 20s, Earls proves with this latest offering that he’s all growed up.
That’s not to say the laughs have dried up – far from it – but this is an adult book for and about adults.
Andrew Van Fleet has been an, aherm, fleeting presence in his family’s life for the past three years. A big-wig for a private equity firm, he has spent more time in airports, planes and first-class hotels than he has being a husband and father. He’s 49, and he’s beginning to feel a bit like an analogue man in a digital world.
Now his father is sick, his teenage children are growing up without him, and his marriage is barely hanging on. It’s time to come home, so he throws in the job for something that will allow him to spend more time with his family. Motivated in part by his father’s career as a radio personality in the ’70s, Andrew takes control of a floundering radio station with the remit of making it profitable. His first big problem is Brian Brightman, the resident shock-jock who is somewhat reminiscent of an ageing Kyle Sandilands. Brightman is the station’s expensive fading star whose every broadcast offers fresh trouble and, at age 49, he is like Andrew’s evil twin.
Things culminate in a weekend on the Gold Coast, where Andrew attempts to bring his family together while playing minder to Brightman, who is scheduled to appear on live TV for the great comedy debate. Let’s just say it’s a debate closer you’ll never see coming.
This is, quite simply, a brilliant book. It is witty, literary and has chunks of pure slap-stick coupled with deep observations about generational difference and the way some people end up feeling left behind in a world so suddenly reliant upon iPads, wifi and the latest techno-gadgets. The characters are so sharply drawn, the dialogue so snappy and tight, that it feels like Earls has opened a window into the lives of real human beings. Each one is unique, endearing and strong in their own right, but it is Andrew and Brian who hold the spotlight.
If there is a theme other than the rise of technology making humans eventually obsolete, it would have to be bum jokes. Do not underestimate the numerous ways in which fun can be poked at the human bum. There are bum cramps, superglue to the bum, and even a constipated bulldog. It almost feels wrong to laugh at such juvenile humour, but it works in the story … and apparently you don’t stop playing because you get old, you get old because you stop playing.
Thankfully, while he may now write for adults, Nick Earls is still playing.
Analogue Men, by Nick Earls, is published by Vintage Australia, $32.99.
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