Book Review of Comrades by Dominic Knight


“That’s ridiculously naïve, really,” Sunita said, raising her voice. “Haven’t you read Graham Richardson’s book Whatever it Takes? You guarantee your win by any means, that doesn’t involve being arrested, and then, only once you’ve got the gig, do you have the luxury of thinking about principles. If you lose valiantly, you’ll be watching from the sidelines while worse people, with worse principles, pass worse policies. There’s no such thing as heroic defeat in politics, Ed. There’s only defeat.
Page 59

Dominic Knight’s “Comrades” is a very funny and astute novel of student politics that hinges on just the question above – if you do “Whatever it Takes” to get “into Power”, will you still have the desire, ability and credibility to achieve your goals, or will the horse-trading and back-covering and triangulating never stop?

Knight, one of the founders of “the Chaser” sets his comedy at the University of Sydney in the year 1999 (and therefore has to write a disclaimer, since he was there, then). “Ed” is the outgoing Labor President of the Student’s Union. Sunita is the ambitious but-perhaps-not-quite-solid-class-warrior who wants to succeed him. To do this she must first win the Labor nomination, then defeat a strong campaign from “the Trots” and various clever and not-quite-illegal attempts at, well, ballot-rigging from the Liberals.

English or American readers, more used to “First Past the Post” elections, will need to pay close attention to the short section that explains “preferences”, since they are the key driver for most of the plot/characters’ plotting.

Knight keeps the plot moving along nicely, and though sometimes the character are a bit too articulate for plausibility, you do warm to them. Liberals will probably feel that “their” candidates have been thinly drawn or caricatured, but having met one or two, I’d say Knight has fleshed them out more than they deserve!

As befits a campus comedy, all – even the ‘hero’ – are mocked.

After a solid hour’s work, Eddies’s books, papers and clothes were almost tidy, and he’d carefully arranged a few books to look as though they’d been randomly dumped on his bedside table. Noam Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent had been left open to identify him as a committed leftie intellectual, but his well-thumbed copy of Ben Elton’s Stark was also on display to show he had a sense of humour. He’d wanted to include a female writer as well, and had opted for The Beauty Myth, not only to show he was a feminist, but that he wasn’t superficial when it came to women. Despite the presence of Naomi Wolf’s book, though, the entire bedroom was an exercise in appearances.
Page 176

(If I have a quibble with Knight in the entire book, it’s that it was Edward S. Herman and Chomsky wot wrote Manufacturing Consent)

It would be lovely to see Ed become a kind of Adrian Mole figure (though he is by no means that ‘pathetic’). Knight could follow Sue Townsend‘s lead and use his characters as a tool for comment on the State of the Nation. We could see Ed and Sunita/Sunny involved in the machinations around the defenestration of Kevin Rudd, and the horse-trading around the 2010 elections. We could see them neck deep in the Constitutional Emergency of 2013… but, of course, I’m getting ahead of myself…

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