Tuesday, December 23, 2014

More about a book I didn't care for

My Brother Jack at 50 – the novel of a man whose whole life led up to it | Books | The Guardian

I recently mentioned this book in my post about David Malouf's Johnno.  It was a high school English assigned novel, if I recall correctly, and I didn't much care for it.  (I think the version produced for high school in the 1970's had one or two rude bits excised.) 

Nonetheless, it is somewhat interesting to read about the background of the author, and I didn't recall that the book was only published in 1964.  George Johnston and his wife had moved to the Greek island of Hydra in the 1950's, but certainly did not have a great life despite the book's success:
The wind-whipped Hydra winters are harsh, however. Johnston and Clift had
little money, often living on credit from local shopkeepers. By the time My Brother Jack was published, their marriage was deeply strained; tuberculosis and subsequent medical treatment had rendered Johnston impotent and infidelity was a constant undercurrent of their
relationship. Johnston left Hydra in 1964, a physical shadow of the strapping man who’d departed Australia in 1951. Despite his reputation as a journalist, and the moderate success he’d enjoyed as a novelist, MyBrother Jack was his make or break moment.

He knew that he didn’t have many writing years left. But the success, Johnston’s due, did finally come with the publication of My Brother Jack.
The Johnston-Clifts settled in Mosman, Sydney. Both continued to drink heavily, Clift especially so, although she managed to produce a popular newspaper column while Johnston wrote his famous sequel. This time he wrote no less evocatively about island life in Greece in Clean
Straw for Nothing, in the same way he’d conjured suburban Melbourne from Greece in My Brother Jack.

Clift died of a barbiturate overdose at 45 in 1969, just as Clean Straw for Nothing was about to be published and before it, too, won the Miles Franklin Award.

Johnston died a year later, at 58, before he could finish the third instalment of the Meredith trilogy, A Cartload of Clay. It was published posthumously in 1971.

The postscript was no happier. Shane Johnston committed suicide in 1974. In 1988 Johnston’s daughter by his first marriage, Gae, died of a drug overdose. Then Martin Johnston, an acclaimed poet, died of alcoholism at 42 in 1990. Only Hydra-born Jason Johnston survives.

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