Rare Bird of Truth
by Neal Drinnan
Published by Simon and Schuster (Australia)
Published February 1, 2010
390 pgs. • Find on Amazon.com
Reviewed by Stephen O. Murray
April 27, 2017
I found Neal Drinnan’s fifth novel, Rare Bird of Truth (2010), hard to get into, but it became a page-turner once it got away from the Eurotrash in Ibiza scenes. Even later Ibiza scenes were more interesting, if somewhat formulaic.
There is a lot of plot involving a lot of characters: young/first gay love, an intense heterosexual coupling, a more sedate but still passionate middle-aged lesbian pairing, various loveless sex connections, lots and lots and lots of drugs ca. 2000-01.
The protagonist is Virgil Mann, originally from Australia, who consumes many of the drugs and is used sexually by two super-rich men. Though not as cunning as Becky Sharp, he rises and is not destroyed by the “elite.”
He doesn’t have any connection to the young lover, his boss’ son Wesley, though he is thrown to a wolf (Jasper) to keep the wolf off Wesley (and I do mean literally “off,” as Jasper wants to pluck the lad’s cherry). Virgil survives somewhat like Tom Ripley (having murdered no one) and does not pretend to be what/who he is not, but I can see thematic connections to The Talented Mr. Ripley, and, even more so (the drugs!), The Line of Beauty. In all three a middle-class lad is taken up by a member or members of the elite. The latter two see much more of the viciousness and hypocrisy near the top of the social order. (Drinnan told an interviewer that like Virgil, he “can never quite work out how attached people are to their power and position and how fragile their egos might be when tested.”
There is a fairly sad story of the ambitious social climber Gaia whom Jasper is wedding, though his sexual orientation is toward men (or because…).
I’m not sure about capital-t Truth, but Virgil sees through much media hype and gains some self-knowledge (with the aid of a prescription medicine called “Aktualize,” which he foreswears after gaining the position he wants). The older of the power couples also seem to attain some self-knowledge, and Wesley exacts revenge on the schoolmate who has been bullying him with the aid of the northern lad with whom he is in rapturous first love. Wesley is a “sweet bird of youth” a lot more than Chance Wayne in Tennessee Williams’s play of that name, which also looks back at a first love and has a jaded middle-age woman, Alexandra Del Lago, a star of a different era from the one in which Delia Lloyd shines (a more genial, more maternal Martha Stewart figure on British television).
The book seems only to have been published in Drinnan’s native Australia. The chapters are 2–3 pages long and jump from place to place (place is always specified before the text of the new chapter begins).
©2017, Stephen O. Murray