“Dare Me!: The Life and Work of Gerald Glaskin” by John Burbidge— Pushing the Limits

dare me

Burbidge, John. “Dare Me!: The Life and Work of Gerald Glaskin” (Gay and Lesbian Perspectives), Monash University Publishing, 2014.

Pushing the Limits

Amos Lassen

I must admit that I had never heard of Gerald Glaskin before I got a copy of John Burbidge’s wonderful biography of him and now I am determined to read anything and everything I can about him.

Gerald Glaskin lived from 1923-2000 and for most of his life, he pushed the limits and boundaries of acceptability in what he wrote about and how he wrote. His twenty publications included novels, short stories, travelogues, memoirs, plays, and more – tackled such taboo subjects as homosexuality, incest, and parapsychology. He always seemed to be several steps ahead of everyone else and I can’t help but wonder how he would feel, were he alive today, about the progress that has been made in gay rights. After all, he played a part.

“After World War II ended, Glaskin challenged white Australians to re-examine their attitudes toward Asians and Aboriginal people; and his 1965 novel, “No End to the Way” which, was initially banned in his home country of Australia, he gave a frank and honest portrayal of a homosexual relationship. Outside Australia, Glaskin’s books were translated into multiple languages and garnered praise from critics and readers alike. He was hailed as ‘the ace of Australian story tellers.’ Yet, in his home country, he was and remains a virtual nonentity”.

Why did Australia turn its back on Glaskin? Was it due to his delight in provoking people? Was it because of his audacious, belligerent, and, at times, overbearing manner? Was he a victim of a provincial publishing industry? This insightful biography explores his life and his work and gives him the respect that he is due. John Burbidge brings us a very important and compelling read with “Dare Me”.

I usually never quote in my review but with this book, I found that others, especially Australians say it so much better and more concisely than I can. I understand that Burbidge has dedicated himself to learning all that he can about Glaskin and for that alone he should be commended but now there is this book which is a product of his research and it is wonderful. This is the kind of book that should win the Lambda Literary Award all the time. Not only is it readable, it is about something new and it is a huge contribution to the gay canon. (Yes guys, this review is going to be a gusher). Aside from Burbidge probing the life of Glaskin, he also attempts to answer the questions posed above.

Already in the first chapter we learn how much Glaskin loved his home even though his home did not much care for him. He loved the beaches at Perth even though they provided trouble in his life. He was a body surfer until an accident forced him to quit and then he was charged with exposing himself on a Scarborough Beach and this indeed revealed a great deal about him and about the forceful character that he was—and we must remember that this was before there was any sign or talk of gay liberation. He was who he was with no excuses or explanations. He wrote that first novel based on his own experiences but was never able to duplicate its success. He became bitter yet with a certain charm.

Glaskin remained one of Australia’s most successful authors for more than 20 years and this was based on productivity, overseas sales and the number of languages into which his novels were translated. Even so the literary establishment and Australian publishers ignored him. Between 1955 (the publication of “A World of Our Own”) and 1974 (the publication of “Windows of the Mind”), Glaskin published ten novels, an anthology of short stories and a travelogue (“The Land that Sleeps”). Barrie & Rockliff published all but two in London. Only one of his works became a film(“A Waltz Through the Hills”, and it was a movie made for television ). In his book, it seems to me that Burbidge is really trying to establish Glaskin as a wonderful storyteller who was the benchmark for some of the themes now enjoying popularity in Australia and the world. He was one of the first authors to write about Australia’s relations with Asia and with the Aborigines. He poignantly wrote about loneliness and he went head to head with writing about sexuality, specifically homosexuality.

A compelling read, it looks to establish Glaskin not as a literary novelist but as a wonderful storyteller who benchmarked a number of themes current in Australian literature.

In fact, Glaskin was so open about sexuality that he had to publish “No End to the Way” (1965) under a different name (Neville Jackson). In this book he wrote of a homosexual relationship in Perth in the 1960s and it is compared to Gore Vidal’s “The City and the Pillar” and James Baldwin’s “Giovanni’s Room” for what all there books brought to society (the love that dared not speak its name).

Because Burbidge shares Glaskin’s sexuality, he has a relatively easy time writing about the complexities of Glaskin’s multi-faceted life and work and he is able to tell us about it candidly, something a straight writer might not succeed in doing. Burbidge has the energy and the knowledge to share Glaskin with us and he does not let his research cloud his writing. We learn that Glaskin had one overriding problem and that was that he was his own worst enemy. He fought with everyone, it seems but he still emerges as a major figure in this biography.

Glaskin was his own worst enemy – he fell out with just about everybody and spread himself too thinly. Burbidge recues Glaskin from obscurity and through his life he sheds light on Australian history. I cannot say enough about how fantastic of a read this is and we get the extra bonus of learning something at the same time.