In the April issue of our magazine, reviewer Richard Bilkey asked David Musgrave about his first foray into novel-writing, and found out why Patrick White may have had a laugh reading the forthcoming Glissando.
The title, Glissando: A Melodrama, immediately informs the reader that music will underscore everything in the novel. It is present both in metaphor and as a constant accompaniment to the characters’ lives. How did the musical effect of ‘glissando’ in particular come to be of such central importance to the novel?
One of the main themes of Glissando is the arts and how they are interrelated and the role art can play in our lives, and the focus is really on architecture and music, although food, memory and writing also play important roles. The musical aspect came naturally, as I have played and written music since I was a child; the architectural aspect I guess came from a preoccupation with forebears who were colonial architects (and who feature in the book). Because I was interested in the arts in combination, Glissando refers to the musical technique of the glissade, to the house Glissando where the narrator lives and writes (the man who built it conceived of the house as a glissade realised in architectural form) and to the dying fall of the narrator’s life. So, in a way, music itself is a kind of master trope in the book for how art can shape our lives, for good and for ill.
Your previous work has often been noted for its clever use of satire and Glissando is no exception, targeting everything from self-righteous wowsers to the ‘majestic idiocy’ of the Sydney Opera House. Why is satire important to you as an author?
That’s a difficult question. It’s not really satire per se that is important to me, but the exuberance of the form. I was attracted to satire not because it is a form of attack but because it seems to open up possibilities and make new connections between things because the form is so varied and goes in so many different directions at once. I first became interested in satire when I studied a course under the late professor Bill Maidment at Sydney University. I was fascinated at the time by Tristram Shandy, and how it seemed to be wrestling with the idea of representation as a totalising act. Later, of course, I realised that Sterne was parodying encyclopaedic knowledge, and making fun of the attempt to make representation complete and total. My initial interest led on to studying other types of the same kind of satire, such as Rabelais, Swift, Peacock, Rushdie and many others. I actually ended up writing a book on it, called Grotesque Anatomies, which is being published in the USA later this year. People often think of satire negatively: for me, it is joyous and celebratory; the satirical targets in Glissando are often almost incidental to the fun, hopefully, that is had in doing so and they are treated fairly gently, I think. Continue reading