Pollie fiction a real worry

I HAVE been grappling with a political novel for about four years now.

I HAVE been grappling with a political novel for about four years now.

I HAVE been grappling with a political novel for about four years now.

I'd been doodling with the idea on and off while writing other stuff. Then my publisher effectively said: ''Come on let's do it - get it out of your system.''

I'm close. At least that's what I keep telling them. But every now and then, when I make something up for the book, politics keeps throwing up the same scenario so that in the end it's all just a bit too ? well, real.

It's why I missed a beat or two and broke out in a cold sweat when the literary rock star Jonathan Franzen, speaking at the National Library in Canberra a few days ago, confided to an awe-struck crowd of groupies (the bastard!) that he long ago gave up writing the definitive political novel after wasting about five years in the process.

''Washington is already its very own novel. There are new chapters every week, every hour, every day,'' he said.

''There is no room for the novelist to exercise imagination.''

(I didn't get to hear Franzen in person on account of his event being booked out within about two minutes. He's got so many groupies - the bastard! Did I already mention that? Don't get me wrong, though - I, too, am a big fan of his work, especially The Corrections. But really, does he need all those women - and blokes - of a certain age to hang off his every word and carry on about how scintillatingly clever he is and also how young and cute he looks for 52?)

Franzen said he found it very difficult as a liberal democrat to create fiction about politics with sufficient moral complexity.

In Australian politics now there is plenty of anger and an abundance of moral complexity to draw off. I'm not talking in terms of creating cheapo political potboilers here but the stuff of real meaning-of-life sinewy nuance that is so critical to the writer's task.

Look at how politicians in the major parties negotiate the moral path that runs somewhere between conscience and political necessity, as dictated by public opinion and the polls.

Throw in a few questions about the national interest, then consider the parlous balancing act between searing personal ambition, the desire for a family existence and the temptations of single life in Canberra.

Add treachery and venality, lashings of ego and ambition, lousy diet, excessive alcohol and sleep deprivation and the raw material is all there.

Sympathetic characters?

They're rare on either side.

That is the great moral dilemma at the core of modern Australian politics that so repels thinking voters.

No, the real problem is plot and the propensity of the potentially fictional political narrative to be aped by life.

Consider this.

A centre-left governing party turns viciously on one of its most successful leaders after he becomes consumed by hubris and a viral superiority complex.

A brilliant, popular woman with a sound reputation for consensus is coolly implanted. She contracts a brain-eating bug, pretends to be somebody else, blows her party's record majority, cobbles together a minority government and barely ends up in the Lodge.

The man she replaced establishes a Lodge-in-exile a few hundred metres away where world leaders and party loyalists pay homage on the way to her door, as she falters on the same policy dilemmas that finished him.

The opposition, led by an extreme-right idealogue who has concocted a frightening tale with a few over-paid disc jockeys that the country is being invaded by hordes of dark-skinned people escaping persecution, tries to outflank the centre-left governing party on how to deal with said ''invasion'' from the left.

The DJs launch an assault on Parliament with a small bunch of irate truckers and disgruntled geriatric Hansonite bee-keepers but they get lost on a roundabout and end up at the Tuggeranong Hyperdome Yum-Cha instead. (Has anyone ever told you Canberra is basically one big roundabout? No? They will.)

The government inexplicably bans the internet after a crazed blogger alleges the lady prime minister once shacked up with the leader of a bizarre Satanic cult who reckoned the Earth was warming and who, some time last century, used his cult Amex to buy her a Swedish carbon credit for her 26th birthday, and then the prime minister-in-exile and the actual prime minister decide to swap houses, and then ?

Oh, I did say it wouldn't be a potboiler, didn't I?

I'd better get back to it.

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