Janeen Webb's wonderful launch address for Mud and Glass (edited extract)

The amazing Janeen Webb, author, editor, critic, and academic, has graciously given me permission to post the address she gave at last night's launch of Mud and Glass, my new novel. I present an edited extract of it to you here:

Faculty and Fiction

As a lapsed academic, my first thought on starting to read Mud and Glass was that Laura Goodin has spent far too much time hanging around in University corridors and staff rooms: her comic version of academic life rings all too true.

Mud and Glass is a hilarious portrait of second string academic institutions everywhere. We all know them: they are the places where intellectual enquiry has been reduced to an endless quest for resources, and any project, no matter how mad, will get the 'go ahead' if sufficient funding can be found for it – and never mind how dubious those funding sources might be. In the world of this novel, the deeply corrupt, proto-totalitarian Praxicopolis cartel is providing the finance for researchers to dig up the mud of a particular delta every year: they won't say why, but interested parties suspect it has something to do with glass beads. The madcap escapades that ensue remind me of at least a dozen adventure stories, but there are also darker echoes here of Hermann Hesse's brilliant novel, The Glass Bead Game, where austere intellectuals devote their entire lives to an arcane game based on a complex synthesis of the arts and sciences.

Does that remind you of the game playing that passes for intellectual enquiry in so many academic faculties? It should. Mud and Glass holds up a mirror to the many institutions where moral flexibility and intellectual compromise are prerequisites for promotion. I know. I've taught there.

Laura Goodin has a keen eye for the absurdities of University life. I'm sure I've worked with Norella Honeycott, the devious, scheming academic of the novel: the name was different, and the woman in question was not nearly so attractive, but underneath she was pretty much the same – a second-rate apparatchik creepily prepared to use her sexuality for any hint of political advantage. But I'm sorry to say I don't know any rogue librarians or insubordinate security guards – I'm afraid these things may, indeed, be the stuff of Laura's imagination. I was never blessed with students who baked sublime cookies, and I'm not sure whether any of them were actually practising ninjas, but some of them were certainly involved in bizarre adventures: I remember when one creative writing class was having difficulty with dialogue I suggested they should spend some time just listening to how people actually speak. The course venue was in Melbourne's trendy Fitzroy, and I expected some polite lunch hour eavesdropping in the local cafes – but my literal minded little darlings managed to get themselves caught taking notes of a fairly heavy drug deal going down in a backstreet bar. They got chased off at knife point, thus learning a valuable lesson in how to read body language.

For me, one of the most endearing aspects of Mud and Glass is the involvement of an entire retirement village full of superannuated academics – still sharp as tacks, and cheerfully getting their own back on the University that blighted their intellectual lives, sticking it the University's board of hopelessly inept governors. Good for them, say I!

And finally, I really should say a word about the hero, Celeste Carlucci – the idealistic, intrepid, as-yet-untenured geography lecturer who, in trying to save the Purple River and solve the mystery of the disappearing mud flats, finds herself leading the resistance against the Praxicopolis family's conspiracy for domination: today, the University, tomorrow, the World. Celeste has, shall we say, 'issues', but she manages to keep going anyway, with the help of the handsome and resourceful drama lecturer love interest, Russ Gartner (in whom I detect more than a trace of Laura's charming husband, Houston).

The novel ends happily, as such things should do: University life returns to something that passes for normal.

Mud and Glass should be required reading for all academics. I recommend it to you. Enjoy.

Janeen Webb
22 April, 2017


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