Dunny-Digging

Jonathan Coe

  • The Riders by Tim Winton
    Picador, 377 pp, £14.99, February 1995, ISBN 0 330 33941 9

Tim Winton’s new novel is full of shit. There are references to it every three or four pages, almost: characters are forever feeling like it, or smelling of it, or coming out with it, or at least kicking it off their boots. Winton’s hero, a builder called Fred Scully, is put through some harrowing emotional paces, and as often as not they affect him primarily in the bowels, which thereby become a potent index of spiritual well-being. The well-behaved, well-regulated bowel belongs to his era of stability and marital contentment: an era that predates this novel but is alluded to nostalgically as a time when Scully was ‘a languid outhouse merchant ... who liked to plot and read and reminisce with his trousers down’. And when his spiral downwards into Hell begins – Scully arrives at Shannon Airport to collect his wife and daughter from their Australian flight, but discovers that only the daughter is there to meet him – the first symptoms manifest themselves, naturally enough, in the lavatory, where Scully takes immediate refuge and soon finds himself ‘shitting battery acid’.

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