Australian Book Review ~ Scoundrel Days

Duncan Fardon reviews ‘Scoundrel Days: A memoir’ by Brentley Frazer

Brentley Frazer, one of many scoundrels in his memoir Scoundrel Days, documents coming of age on the boundary of civilisation. His father’s vocation as the only policeman in a small northern Queensland mining town subjects Frazer to a chaotic side of life: a lockup only a stone’s throw from his bedroom; housing criminals and murderous poachers; bloodied victims of domestic violence showing up in the early hours; and the aftermath of car crashes. His parents’ involvement with the new-age cult ‘The Family’ introduces perverts into the home. But Frazer embraces his circumstances with a kind of brash vigour, starting The Wreckers gang, drinking, smoking, taking drugs, and committing acts of vandalism.

Frazer’s deft utilisation of E-Prime (where the verb ‘to be’ is elided) creates a visceral and urgent internal perspective which is both direct and poetic, often charming, and sometimes bleakly funny. As he moves from the casual and pervasive violence of his school days into a wandering and listless adolescence, drifting between Townsville and Brisbane, his growing intellect is glimpsed mostly second-hand via dialogue or anecdote. Given his proclivities (Byron, Plath, Hemingway), one would expect greater introspection, but this is a memoir that also tracks a fierce adherence to the philosophy of absolute freedom (he says: ‘I will never surrender’), charting its effect on relationships, and the tendency of the unrestrained id to challenge the bounds of the law. In Frazer’s case, it is a precociousness that justifies rather than redeems.

 Under it all lies a dark, nihilist void where, like Gordon in Andrew McGahan’s Praise (1992), expectation is seen as the root of unhappiness. But unlike Gordon, who slouches towards destruction content in the acceptance of a awed physicality, Frazer oscillates between bravado and moments of self-awareness. This enigmatic, self-styled outsider bravely lets us into the inner sanctum, which makes for a fascinating read.

Australian Book Review
March 2017 no. 389