Review of My Father Is Not A Comedian!
Ursula Dubosarsky's particular talent is to observe the foibles and peculiarities of character that distinguish individuals, and to do it through a child's eye. Critics and book publicists use words like quirky, witty and eccentric to describe her distinctive voice, but her new book proves that she is also one of the funniest writers around.
Claudie, the protagonist with literary ambitions, is a keen but tolerant observer of her friends and family - and a very Dubosarsky set of characters they are. At school there's Alaric the beautiful, Anupam the meringue muncher, Leo the godly, Cinnamon the knowing, Boaz the rubber band fetishist, Ethelred the sleepy, and a tearful teacher prone to nervous exhaustion; at home, where TV soapies feed the mind and baked beans the body, there's sister Griselda, neurotic about personal hygiene, a mother who uses the public transport system to conduct her seed business, and Norbert, unemployed, hiding from creditors, and definitely not a comedian.
As in all Dubosarsky novels, the plot is slight and gentle. Claudie gets her picture in the local paper and as a result, is pursued all week by a stranger she takes for one of her father's creditors. Claudie's efforts to save him from discovery and subsequent ruin provide the frame on which is hung the character sketches and observations on life. These are all the funnier for being recorded by a nine(?)-year-old with an enviable vocabulary, a range of references from Shakespeare to popular psychology,and a firm grasp on the realities of life ('In our school Co-operation is one of our Core Values. Co-operation means agreeing with somebody when you can't be bothered to persist'.)
Occasionally the line into Adrian Mole territory is crossed, as when Claudie writes 'There aren't that many caring people in the world, I've noticed, and I can tell you it's a heavy burden being one of the sensitive ones'. Or when she observes that her teacher 'likes to encourage the quiet ones, more fool her'. Sue Townsend's adolescent diary was aimed at readers considerably older than her eponymous hero, and Dubosarsky's novel sometimes heads in the same direction. Claudie's attempt to make some quick cash by sending her story about a singing cannibal cactus to a Meanjin-type magazine (Adrian Mole, you might recall, sent his poems to the BBC) and her subsequent confrontation with the editor when she fails to receive an acknowledgement after three days is considerably funnier if you know something of literary publishing.
Dubosarsky is never afraid to leave a few threads hanging at the end of her stories. Claudie, as she herself points out, is writing from LIFE, and life rarely offers neat and satisfactory endings. So although there's a resolution of sorts, there's also the feeling that Dad's salvation will be short-lived and further problems are just around the corner. Fiction posing as real-life.
Published in Australian Book Review on September 1, 1999.