Stephens, David: Peter FitzSimons: poltergeist with two brains

Stephens, David

Peter FitzSimons: poltergeist with two brains‘, Inside Story, 25 March 2015

A review of FitzSimons’ Gallipoli which makes some general points about FitzSimons as a ‘storian’ who should unleash his inner historian. The article argues that FitzSimons’ style – essentially playing to the gallery – gets in the way of his potential contribution to Australian history. While parts of the book show that FitzSimons comes close to being a fine writer, too often the book is marred by overwriting, insufficiently digested sources and unnecessary authorial interventions.

As well, ‘Fitz says he eschews drawing conclusions in the way that historians do. But don’t be fooled by this claim into thinking that he does not take positions. The book reeks of themes: heroism, blood and guts, sacrifice, patriotism, sudden and unexpected death.’

Then there is the relevance of the book to the current Anzac centenary and how Australians deal with war.

Realism in war writing is a good thing, of course, but realism in this book too often slops over into ghoulishness, mawkishness and, occasionally, jingoism, while mostly stopping short of considering why all this blood was being spilt and whether it was worth it …

Fitz has been well-placed on the Council of the Australian War Memorial, an institution which has a similar cockeyed appreciation of war. (Masses of sentimental memorabilia on what happened, very little on causes and impacts.) Fitz’s welcome activism in other causes, such as the Republic, flag reform, sexuality and gender, and abuse of children by teachers, is offset by his fellow-travelling, witting or unwitting, in Anzackery, the overblown commemoration-celebration of Australian military history and the most conservative and least questioning of our national obsessions.

The review concludes by suggesting that FitzSimons should let his ‘suppressed historian glands suppurate a bit more’.

Storians should stick to writing comics. Fitz’s claim to be just a storian is a form of reverse snobbery. Fitz sells FitzSimons short. Fitz should let his inner historian blossom, even if he has to take considerably longer honing his books. The fans looking for a Fitz for Christmas can always fall back on Stephen King.

Other reviews of the book.

Read more …

Inside Story, where this review is published, does not have a comments facility. For that reason, we have allowed for comments here. HH

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One comment on “Stephens, David: Peter FitzSimons: poltergeist with two brains
  1. Leighton View says:

    The last FitzSimons book I read (perhaps the only one as I think about it) was on Tobruk. It was a good read … as you say, something that would have fit in (with a touch more Victorian verbage) with many of the later British Empire eulogies. I haven’t read his version of Gallipoli, but I can well imagine its contents through the above review.

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