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Wake in Fright by Kenneth Cook

Wake in Fright (1961)

by Kenneth Cook

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I found this novel held my attention, not so much because of the nightmare situation John Grant found himself in after losing all his money in Bundanyabba but because of the way the locals deal with him. Of course we see the corruption from the start when Crawford, the local policeman entices him into illegally gambling, but after that the locals in a way seem quite generous with him in one way or another and that’s when the reader realises, from their frequent allusions to what a great place The Yabba is, that what they’re in fact doing is seeking reassurance that they’re not living in some awful place. When we discover after Grant’s suicide attempt that there’s a fund set up to loo after such people, we realise that grant’s experience is Cook’s way of commenting on the deadliness of small country towns.

Although not as overtly bleak as Thea Astley’s “An item from the late news’, it has its dire moments – from the kangaroo hunt to Tydon’s rape of Grant, something he tries to dismiss from his mind. It’s a curious book, the attractions of Sydney and his girlfriend frequently coming into Grant’s mind in juxtaposition to the situation he finds himself in. That he’s a school-teacher working off his bond who finds himself trapped in such a corrupt place perhaps makes the novel all the more convincing to the average city dweller. I’m not so sure, though, about why Cook wants us to feel that it is wrong that Grant is pursued by the apparently promiscuous Janette Hynes. Are we meant to see her as a victim of the tedium of this out-of-the-way place? I felt more that Cook was simply critical of her for her sexuality and that we’re meant to sympathise with Grant being chased by her. ( )
1 vote evening | Aug 31, 2014 |
This book's grim reputation had me expecting some sort of outback Deliverance, but it thankfully never quite reached that level of depravity. Which is not to say that you should lend Wake in Fright to your grandmother - this modern classic is certainly not for the fainthearted.

Having made a couple of bad decisions on his way back to Sydney for the holidays, schoolteacher John Grant finds himself stranded, alone and virtually penniless, in Bundanyabba. Known locally as 'The Yabba', it is the sort of desolate outback town where 'mateship' means rampant violence and very, very hard drinking. (Indeed refusing to have a beer with someone is the gravest insult imaginable, as Grant soon discovers.) Kenneth Cook captures the menace that underpins this particular strand of Australian masculinity very effectively. Wake in Fright provides a fascinating insight into a particular time and place in Australian history; one that many would prefer to forget. ( )
  whirled | Aug 31, 2014 |
Harrowing. I can't say I enjoyed this, as such--my stomach was churning much of the time--but it was compelling, generating in me a kind of grim fascination, and I am very glad to have read it. This is a well-written and, according to my mum who grew up in far north Queensland, horribly accurate book. ( )
  Vivl | Apr 5, 2013 |
Scratching around in the archives of Australian fiction is still unearthing some great books for me. A work colleague who I often talk books with told me about a book he read years ago, Wake In Fright by Kenneth Cook. He was unable to tell me much, as it had been a long time ago, but it was enough to stir my curiosity and after laying my hands on it, I devoured the book in two nights.

John Grant is a young school master doing time in the outback before securing the prized position of city teacher. His first year is now up and it is a short hop from Tiboonda to Bundanyabba before boarding the plane to Sydney for six glorious weeks. But through a series of adverse encounters with the locals, Grant’s escape from the one night stop-over is destroyed and he tumbles head on into the very scary world of the 1960s rural outback, where surviving means pubs, booze, gambling, shooting, isolation and finally, denigration.

How can all this happen in a few days? Much of the blame lies directly at Grant’s feet. The classic human weaknesses are beautifully honed in his character and as a reader you find yourself growling through gritted teeth …”You idiot! What are you doing?” But Cook has taken the very human ability of rationalizing anything to clear the way for idiocy to new heights, and you are left to watch as Grant heads downhill faster than the proverbial roller-coaster.

But Cook has also given life to the location, particularly that of Bundanyabba (don’t you love that name!). Its isolation, characters and heat laden atmosphere go a long way to capturing Grant and entombing him in a backward hell. The country, the landscape itself, seems to pull its victims in until they disappear into the dry river beds like the first rains of the season.
This way of portraying Australia’s outback (an evil, yawning land of menace) seems to have been in style during the 60s and 70s. Maybe even as far back as the 50s. I’ve read hints of it in Kennelly, Malouf and even Winton gives the earth a dark heart at times.

Is this how Australia’s new people viewed their country for many years? Was there, is there still, a fear of her wild, sunburnt heart? Or does it just make good writing material … after all, isolation is a fearful thing for most of us. What better way of feeding the fear than the sheer desolation of outback Australia. Enter … Wolf Creek! ( )
2 vote jody | Sep 9, 2011 |
Stuck in fictional western NSW mining town (based on Broken Hil) with no money things go down hill pretty quickly for school teacher John Grant. You can almost feel oppressive outback heat and increasing claustrophobia of Grant's situation - unable to escape the town and its inhabitants ( )
1 vote clstaff | Oct 19, 2010 |
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May you dream of the Devil and wake in fright. - Alter Fluch
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Er saß an seinem Pult, sah erschöpft zu, wie die Kinder nach und nach das Zimmer verließen, und dachte, wohl zumindest in diesem Semester davon ausgehen zu dürfen, dass keines der Mädchen schwanger war.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 185375482X, Paperback)

The Film Ink series presents the novels that inspired the work of some of the most celebrated directors of our time. While each novel is first and foremost a classic in its own right, these books offer the dedicated cinephile a richer understanding of the most illustrious films of American and European cinema. Wake In Fright was first published in 1961 and the film version, The Outback, starring Donald Pleasance was released in 1971. Both the book and the film have achieved a cult status as the Australian answer to US and UK novels and films of 1960s youthful alienation. It is the gruelling story of a young Australian schoolteacher on his way back from the outback to Sydney and civilization when things start to go wrong. He finds himself stuck overnight in Bundanyabba, a rough outback mining town. An ill-advised and drink-fuelled visit to a gambling den leaves Grant broke and he realizes he has no way of escaping. He descends into a cycle of hangovers, fumbling sexual encounters, and increasing self-loathing as he becomes more and more immersed in the grotesque and surreal nightmare that his life has become.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:41 -0400)

May you dream of the devil and wake in fright. John Grant knows hes in hell. What he doesnt know is how to escape. A young school teacher, Grant is returning to Sydney for the holidays, but must spend a night in an outback mining town on the way. He is introduced to the illegal two-up gambling ring and quickly loses all his money. In the company of some hard-bitten and disturbing locals he is drawn into a frightening spiral of alcohol and drugs that takes him to the darkest depths of the male psyche. Forty years since it first appeared this novel remains fresh, compelling and utterly gripping. With an introduction by Peter Temple, and an afterword by acclaimed film critic David Stratton, this edition celebrates the re-release of the film adaptation, a cinematic classic, digitally restored and returned to the big screen in 2009. Cook writes astonishingly well, with a fierce economy and a frightening power of visualization. New York Times… (more)

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Penguin Australia

2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 1921520604, 1921922168

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