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Ninety years after they were thought to have died heroically in the Great War, the stretcher-bearer Simpson and his donkey journey through country Victoria, performing minor miracles and surviving on offerings left at war memorials. They are making their twenty-ninth, and perhaps final, attempt to find the country’s famed Inland Sea.
On the road north from Melbourne, Simpson and his weary donkey encounter a broke single mother, a suicidal Vietnam veteran, a refugee who has lost everything, an abused teenager and a deranged ex-teacher. These are society’s downtrodden, whom Simpson believes can be renewed by the healing waters of the sea.
In Simpson Returns, Wayne Macauley sticks a pin in the balloon of our national myth. A concise satire of Australian platitudes about fairness and egalitarianism, it is timely, devastating and witheringly funny.
‘Macauley’s use of an other-worldly narrative to bring real-world problems into focus is probably one of Simpson Returns’ greatest strengths…[It] becomes a fitting analogy for the particularly cruel Australia in which we currently live. Macauley’s novella has the sheen of a comedy, but it should also be given credit for being so uncomfortably sad.’
‘Wayne Macauley’s novella is a limpid meditation on the nature of selflessness and compassion, juxtaposed with striking, bleak, often piteous tales from those our nation tends to grind underfoot. It compels us to reflect on the gap between aspiration and action, on why the ideals Simpson embodies in our culture don’t play a larger role in everyday life.’
‘He makes readers feel uncomfortable, unsettled in the everyday; one emerges from his books freshly uncertain.’
‘Macauley is a mean satirist with a gift for finding the queasy depths in apparently soft targets…Together, these characters form a mosaic of desperation, inequality and sometimes gendered violence…At the end of the novel…we’re asking questions specific to this story, about how compassion works and what it really is. It’s an unusual renewal of an ordinary myth, not always simple to interpret.’
‘Macauley’s novels are consistently savage critiques of Australian middle class delusions, and Simpson Returns is no exception. He brings considerable depth to his portrayal of our social fragility and the destructive all-pervasive darkness underneath. Simpson reflects at one point: “There is always a certain amount of self-deceit necessary for the healthy maintenance of a society hell-bent on proving the sun shines out of its arse.” A must read.’
‘By placing Simpson in a modern context, Macauley is able to ask questions about who we really are as a nation, about compassion and hypocrisy, and if we have changed at all over the past 100 years…The Simpson of legend, the one we are most familiar with, was originally created to sell war. In contrast, the Simpson of Macauley’s book – and, based on the few truths we know, of real life – is more about compassion.’
‘Novelist Wayne Macauley has re-cast Simpson in far more human terms than much of the early (and later pop) historiography, as the eternal helper wandering through a later Australian landscape, social and geographic. It is masterful and beautiful, and a triumph in thought-provocation. Macauley’s Simpson Returns and Fathi’s Our Corner of the Somme are the most challenging and thought-provoking things I’ve read about Anzac since the end of the profligate four-year centenary.’
‘Books like this may amount to no more than a thumbtack on our master’s chairs, but Simpson’s worthwhile return leaves the concerned reader fresh-eyed to the importance of actually living up to, rather than just blowharding about, core values like care and compassion, a fair go, freedom, honesty, trustworthiness, respect, and tolerance. They should teach this book at school.’
‘Wayne Macauley, arguably Australia’s finest contemporary literary satirist, uses the myth of Simpson to show how far our society has diverged from the values for which he is celebrated…And in some ways Macauley traces here the death of any true meaning lingering in the legend. In this novella, Macauley has expanded his command of the satirical register and created fantastic insights into contemporary Australia and our relationship with a myth we have failed, but whose cicada shell we still hold onto.’