What are days for?
That’s the question that Robert Dessaix posed in his 2014 reflections.
Sydney was a perfect place to first discover Dessaix’s easy turn of phrase. Amidst the busyness and isolation of that city, there was a space most mornings to devour books and adventures. During that time, I won’t forget the impact of his wonderful novel, Corfu (2001). It’s a lucid tale of listlessness.
‘What days are for’ addresses that very theme, from the perspective of incredible vulnerability. It’s told from his bedside in what feels like a very long stint in Sydney hospital, as Dessaix and his lucidity makes an unlikely recovery.
From this vantage point, the reader is treated to a blend of stream of consciousness and auto-biographical writing. At a basic level the story is a journey on life’s motivations and whether it’s all worth it.
The underlying morbidity of the story definitely needs to be considered. This isn’t by any means a ‘cheery’ or ‘hopeful’ reflection but one which captures how we’re all driven by insecurities and the need for compassion. In ‘What days are for’, this also extends to the need for companionship.
At times – the story is brutally honest. Dessaix reflects on his own misadventures, vanity and what can only be described as pomposity. Yet that is exactly what makes this book a splendid read. Only through a healthy dose of introspection does this book rise above the cliché.
Throughout these reflections, we’re treated to Dessaix’s attitudes to intolerance, philistines, the limits of his national culture and his impatience for those not occupying the same world as him.
Yet, we’re also spoilt with stories of family, friendship, romantic beginnings, gay identity and travel through India and Cairo. It’s this tension which is gripping for the reader and makes the story incredibly real.
The story’s flow is etched out in the relationship between and writing, which is captured beautifully:
“The act of writing is an act of resistance against the mortal condition – not mortality but the mortal condition… in the sense of deepening and magnifiying the lived moment while writing”.
Australia needs writers like Dessaix. Writers that veer away from the landscape and the typically gruff and tortured undertones that shape male characters. Dessaix’s book underscores his view on why it’s OK to be particular and florid. More importantly, it tackles the honesty that’s needed to steer away from regret.