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Port of Call

Port of Call - John Morrison Picked this up initially because it was written about a port, while I am "docked" as it were in some kind of beach port. But this book was shelved beside a collection of Aussie short stories, put together by one of those west-struck maniacs in Soviet Russia. Wouldn't you know that Morrison shows up in that collection as one of Australia's greatest short story authors? He's called, somewhere, a master of "social realism", which left me suspicious that I'd be buying into some socialist rant about union struggle on the docks. Far from it.

Morrison, like Jim Morrison of "The Doors", has an Irish surname, and seems just as baffled by his crazy Irish impulses. The realism of the book is its depiction of a man so short-tempered and irresponsible that he lets poor old women and sailors run his life, often just to test his patience. There's some hint that Morrison sees at least part of the problem, as described by the main character's girlfriend, but even such explicit warning from the latest saint or whore is just another excuse for self-serving freedom, which barely touches the man's core. By the end of the book, predictably, nothing has really been resolved or changed.

British novelists, unlike, say, a few modern Bulgarian ones, have a talent for putting outrageous events into a slightly bemused, soothing order which doesn't jangle the reader's judgement. The soothing mechanics of the delivery might even be called "entertaining" if you don't want much responsibility at a beach. The pity of this novel is that is falls squarely in a middle that wasn't much described in the 40s. It's slightly too racy and disjointed for the 1940s, slightly too conservative for the 60s. You'd have to be exceptionally familiar or exceptionally unfamiliar with this type of rogue Irishman to consider him worth following.

But in hindsight, the real failing as entertainment is that an Irishman wrote a book about an Irish sailor which is accurate, pointless, and surprisingly humourless. Granted, it probably doesn't matter that Morrison couldn't explain an Irish man's incessant, contradictory demands for both justice and freedom. Whereas Jim Morrison the singer died at 20 something, with a body puffed out by drugs in Paris, the writer John Morrison, according to the back blurb, spent most of his life as a gardener in the mountains of Australia, probably alternating between short stories and pointless adventures, late into his 80s.