by Louis Armand
First published: 2015
Publisher: Vagabond Press
A decade-by-decade pastiche of 20th-century white Australia, Abacus is a novel about the end times, of generational violence and the self-consuming instinct for survival.
“There is writing here that is twisted towards poetic vibrations of disgust and horror that’s inevitably funny in a wry desolate register, making the reading a degenerate pilgrimage.” Richard Marshall, 3AM Magazine
“Abacus weaves an erudite but harsh beauty from the tattered seams of Australian history.” Cameron Woodhead, Sydney Morning Herald
“The cumulative effect of Abacus is intriguing… As a historical fiction, it’s a welcome corrective to worn-out narrative tropes such as the discovery of lost diaries and the recrudescence of family secrets.” Ed Wright, The Australian
“Thematically, the focus is on conflict and its effects on family, balanced nicely against the under-appreciation of art in Australian society. It is in its battle scenes where Abacus succeeds best. The two world wars and the Vietnam war are all covered. The second character – Sid Smith – has scenes in the trenches, which are as good as any of the multitudinous Australian portrayals of that era.” Chris Flynn, Australian Book Review
“If Armand is lucky this book will be recognized for the important literary work it is. Unfortunately, for most careful writers with something not cliché to say, such luck is a rare event. But I hope Armand has some, as the work certainly merits reading. It was good enough to convince me that Australia is not fiction. Not an easy sell.” Jim Chaffee, New Critique
“Armand’s characters all seem both hugely present and in life’s juice” Brian Etling, The Millions
Abacus was a Sydney Morning Herald pick of the week.
10 May 2020: “The joke doing the rounds when I was a kid was that mother’s day came nine months after father’s day. That was the sort of laconic paternalism that saturated white Australian society, ensuring a jocular complicity with a system of otherwise undisguised discrimination which ran the gamut of immigration policy, family law courts, “aboriginal missions,” trade unionism, militarisation, the “natural resources” sector, the cult of organised sport, & that amorphous mass of recriminations called Kulcha, etc. The entire national mythology was built on a joke — the only way to be “fair dinkum” was to die laughing, or at least in the attempt. Such heroics often blinded “us” to the more substantial narrative, the one that could never quite belong to us. “We” failed to appreciate that collective pronouns are always suspect, more so when uttered in rituals of panicked exclusion. Growing up in Australia filled me with a kind of loathing it has taken many years to come to terms with. I’d like to believe that the women I mostly grew up amongst helped, belatedly, with my taking my own share of responsibility. In what was part exorcism, part self-parody, part atonement, I tried to write this down & after much avoidance did so, five years ago. I called it ABACUS. A fiction in ten acts. A non-fiction in ten laments. Ten decades, from Federation & the White Australia Policy, to the resurgent flag-waiving nationalism & culture wars of the 1990s. Some sort of account, if not an accounting. And if not exactly in the spirit of that mass imported sentimentality with which the collective actions & inactions of Australia’s European myth-makers are constantly whitewashed, I now nevertheless re-dedicate — on socalled Mother’s Day — this flawed self-portrait to my own mother, my grandmothers & greatgrandmothers, who bore the brunt of it all long before I came along to take credit for it. I am forever grateful to Michael Brennan & Vagabond Press for having published ABACUS at a time when its language cld easily have been mistaken for its contrary, & to Glendyn Ivin for providing the cover montage (from production stills for his 2012 version of Puberty Blues).”
Cover art: Glendyn Ivin