BOOK REVIEW: Dancing With The Bull

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Dr Paul Burger takes a look at an entertaining piece of fiction exploring the world of corporate greed.

PERHAPS YOU LIVE under a rock, don’t own a television, forgo all newspapers and radio stations, forsake the internet and never speak to other people. In that case, you may not know the corporate world is full of greed, misanthropy, megalomania and downright ruthless cretins.

On the other hand, if you are not a sightless mole cloistered in a subterraneous world and actually engage with the media, you have probably heard something about the recent raft of Royal Commissions. In one particular Royal Commission, a bunch of extremely well-paid and extremely busy people have been digging through the dung heaps of financial institutions and insurance companies to reveal a rather sordid bunch of callous money-grubbers.

Coincidently, habituated wheeler-dealers serve as the basis of the principal characters in Matthew Simon’s newest contribution to Australian literature — Dancing With The Bull. This satirical tale about the machinations that abound within the corporate world are based on Simon’s personal experience of life on the other side of the smokescreen. Although not overtly biographical, this fast-paced tale exudes authenticity. Importantly, Simon takes aim at no particular corporation. He tries to hit no particular personal figure. Instead, he satirises his targets in a devilish form of literary shorthand.

This well-crafted tale begins when the protagonist falls from the top of the corporate dung heap. In his quest for employment, Luke Glass encounters a mysterious offer that promises a fresh start. Back in the natural environment of the Master of the Universe, once again, he rises up the corporate dung heap. From a position above his colleagues, he sees how powerful people create the illusion of peace and stability. But as the corporate world order starts to unravel, he finds himself forced to question his role in “The Organisation”.

Simon creates a strong narrative that quickly progresses as the protagonist asserts himself back where he believes he belongs. Through lean prose told in the first person, we meet a sparkling cast of characters recounted in a way that is possibly unique within the canon of Australian, English, even world literature. Count among the cast, two unforgettable dogs whose thoughts and sideplay provoke important reflections by the main character.

And beware the simmering suspense — polished prose carries the story forward at breakneck speed while tension slowly rises as the antagonist and his off-sider, lurking in the shadows, cast small pebbles into the lake which cause awkward ripples to spread out across the world around them.

With a veritable minimalist approach to description and characterisation, Simon deftly fleshes out the beats of his plot. Despite the pace of the plot and a fat-free diet of words, the major characters are well-developed and justly motivated. Albeit within the rigorous confines of a novella, Simon’s subplots, seamlessly woven into the primary tapestry, provide important character insights and lead to clever plot twists. With masterly writing, Simon grafts onto a classic narrative structure a clever combination of allusion, wit and intrigue.

Set in no particular geographic location, this universal story will appeal to a wide audience. A character-driven story packed with entertainment and humour that fly off the page with alacrity. A text crammed full of wordcraft and soaked in authorial sweat. A simple and straightforward text that poses provocative questions. One might even call this a sublime text. Simon certainly offers his readers a genuinely new literary voice. Rich in wordplay and irony, ‘Dancing With The Bull’ represents a clever blend of literary elements that carves out a place for itself in the genre of self-realisation.

Dr Paul Burger is a social scientist and author. 

‘Dancing With The Bull’ is available from the official website for $29.95 (paperback) RRP.

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