A review by fourtriplezed
City of Women by David Ireland


Another superb read by David Ireland, Australia’s most under-appreciated author. Did I say under-appreciated? The appreciation has risen as the now 89 year old has been nominated for the Prime Minister Literary award 2016 for a short run release of a book called World Repair Video Game, his first new release in 20 years. Damn fine stuff I say, now to find a copy! With that nomination unabashed admirers of his, such as I, can only hope that novels such as this are acknowledged by a new readership, one that is willing to be challenged by this wonderful writer.

Ireland previous novel was the Miles Franklin winner A Woman of The Future. For the first time I was disappointed with an Ireland novel, I put that down to the length. He wrote as the women of the future but it became a bit tedious at times. I have now read this, his next novel. I have also read criticism. Why write again as a women some complained. This does not hold with me and I think this is in fact a better novel than A Woman of The Future for being shorter and with that it has allowed Ireland to focus on delivery. And what delivery. Australian literary critic Geordie Williamson called Ireland a great proletarian writer and City of Women is a proletarian novel. Ireland has used his observations of the proletariat to his advantage in delivering the usual oddball sarcasm, irony and his crazy surreal weirdness. I can binge on Ireland all day. He has hit that my reading G Spot.

I would suggest that the critics made a mistake in comparing this to A Woman of The Future. City of Women owes more to the sublime Glass Canoe. Glass Canoe was Ireland observing life in a Sydney pub with an astonishingly astute ear for a yarn. This is no different. Ireland is too good an author to write Glass Canoe part two. So why not have a city of brutal proletarian women running the city and living the usual lives that include all types of passion from love to hatred to any emotion that one feels fit be when sober or drunk. Complaining about government, each other, life and almost none existent men. All this is written in an Australian context. So in observing the sunburnt city Ireland at one point writes that he “…..loves Australia, but sometimes Australians are hard to take”. It shows!

The protagonist Billie Shockley has 2 loves in her lives, one a leopard and one other female, both called Bobbie. Throughout the book each short sharp chapter reads as almost as a diary written to Bobbie though what Bobbie is sometimes hard to tell. So Billie tells Bobbie about the individuals that she meets in her work as a Doc and who is doing whom and what at the Lovers Arms, her local pub. Billie philosophises about her life. “Why do I drink? I suppose it’s because it’s not abstract, like other ways to oblivion; it’s more direct, there’s more to do; it’s more social, more cheerful. The sadness of losing someone lifts for a few hours.” Oblivion raises its ugly head in this novel.

Billie complains about noise at night in the city of women. Some of the more drunk women fire their rifles in the air to get the noise to cease. Billie writes in a manner the reader relates to. “It was no use complaining to our own police or public servants: they were just as much outside our day-to-day society as their counterparts in any possible enemy territory.” Bureaucratic inaction. Nothing is different even with women in charge.

Billie has a friend Linda who she visits regularly. Linda was born into wealth. She lets Billie know this. Billie rhetorically asks “After all these centuries of the poor not making revolutions against the rich, why do the rich have the poor so much on their mind.” Linda says “Thank god they can find no more reasons why they should be paid for work that can safely be left to mechanical means, no more reasons why they should be parasites on capital. At last they’re facing reality. For so long conventional wisdom had it that business was the parasite; but now capital can exist, and grow, without people, and their beginning to appreciate it. Now that to all intents and purposes without manufacturing of our own the people are not needed as consumers, with mining and raw materials resources and primary industry and its exports the consumers are elsewhere, we don’t need them.”

Billie tells of Janey the Jailer. Janey is from the US and was in the jail industry. She moved to Australia to retire but never told anyone other than Billie of her life working in a jail. Then one day she got drunk and spilled the beans on her past while at the Lovers Arms. That was it for Janey. As Janey told her story a crowd gathered but then dissipated. Ireland writes brilliantly “Once back at their usual stations around the bar they gave a look or two back in Janeys direction. Then looked away forever. I mean forever. It was if they all pointed the bone at her. No one from these parts of Sydney was going to turn her back on history, which went back to the first days of our little colony. And history of a goodly number of the people at the Lovers Arms went back to the first inhabitants of the colony, brothers and sisters and mothers and uncles of those inhabitants finished their existence on the end of a length of a rope and they weren’t about to drink with an executioner. Or a trusty, a warder, or keeper. And only with a few and very trusted police. The ‘tribe’ at Lovers Arms pointed the bone at Janey the Jailer by not pointing anything at her, not even their faces and she withered away and died four months later.” Brutal proletarian observation and writing as such!

Maybe a novel for those that like it surreal but for me as good as it gets. I would have thought it would have been a great afternoon to have a chat over a few beers with David Ireland.