Griffith Watkins (1930-1969) caught my attention in 2017 with his brilliant poem “Heatwave” selected by Tracy Ryan and John Kinsella for The Fremantle Press Anthology of Western Australian Poetry. I was drawn to the tragic outline of his life: a promising writer and popular art teacher who drowned himself in the Swan River two years after the publication of his debut novel. I’ve been meaning to read that novel for years and now I finally have.
The Pleasure Bird (1967) is an existential novel set in Perth. The novel’s hero, Brenton, is a teacher in his twenties obsessed with art, boxing, sex and death. Watkins piles tragedies onto Brenton’s shoulders. At age 12, he found his war veteran, former boxing champion father hanging in the shed. His mother became a cleaner to provide for Brenton and his brother, Frank, before her early death from cancer. A year before the novel begins, Frank is killed in the boxing ring when his opponent, Mick Gabriel, fights dirty. Mick Gabriel went to prison for three months; he’s out now and Brenton is determined to have his revenge.Continue reading