Friday, May 4, 2012

The Ballad of Les Darcy

As part of the Aussie Author Challenge, this week I read The Ballad of Les Darcy by Peter Fitzsimons. I have now read about four of Peter Fitzsimons' novels, and he has a unique writing style - it is like he is sitting beside you telling you the story. He writes non-fiction, but he makes it like a proper story, rather than just reciting research. I was also lucky enough to hear him speak in Wagga Wagga two years ago, and had him sign a couple of his books.

I had heard nothing of Les Darcy, I am ashamed to say. I was a bit disappointed, because I thought it was going to be the story of a boxer-tured-war hero. In fact, he died when he was twenty-one, just after he had enlisted - he didn't even get to war.
   Even though he died so young, Les Darcy was already the middleweight champion of the world, and the light heavyweight and heavyweight champion of Australia! He is one of Australia's greatest athletes, ever, but he is virtually unknown (to my generation, at least). I am so glad that Peter Fitzsimons wrote this little gem of a novel (only about 50,000 words for the Books Alive initiative for the Australian Government).
   The novel has caught the flavour of the time, in the early 1910's and through the first years of World War I. I cannot believe the amount of pressure that the Australian press and public put Darcy under to join the Army. His mother refused to sign the paperwork, so whilst he was under twenty-one years of age, it wasn't his choice whether he joined up or not. But everyone seemed to ignore that fact.
   His spirit was also very inspiring. He was such a straight-living young man, who came from a family that must have struggled when he was young. There is very little about his early years, which I imagine to be very difficult. There is also very little about his relationship with his drunken father (who, somehow, manages to outlive his younger mother by about 8 years!). I might explore some other books written on Les Darcy, since I am intrigued by the struggling and working classes around the time of Australian federation.

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