Paul McDermott, Fragments of the hole (Review)

"Paul McDermott DAAS" by Canley - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.
“Paul McDermott DAAS” by Canley. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

If you’re an Australian, you are sure to know who Paul McDermott is. If you are not Australian, you may not, and this book in fact would not enlighten you, because nowhere on the book is it made clear that “this” Paul McDermott is indeed “that” Paul McDermott. It doesn’t take much reading though to realise that indeed it must be. Have I intrigued you? I hope so.

Fragments of the hole is the first of the second set of fl smalls released by small independent publisher Finlay Lloyd. I mentioned them in my recent post on small books, and said then that I’d review them individually as I read them, so here I am.

I’ll start, having already mentioned him, by telling you about the author. Wikipedia describes him as “an Australian comedian, actor, writer, director, singer, artist and television host”. I knew about most of those, but I didn’t realise that his writing included more than writing scripts for his shows, or that he was an artist too. He first came to public notice as a member of the satirical musical comedy group the Doug Anthony All Stars. The Doug Anthony in their name refers to the longtime leader (1971-1984) of the National Party of Australia, which will, perhaps, give you a sense of his political leanings. However, Fragments of the hole is not political satire, so let’s get onto it …


The jokes start pretty much on the title page when we are told that the book comprises:

a collection of previously unpublished work from various writer/artists:

Young Master Paul, The Nymbus Art Collective, The Marvellous Mr Me, The Generator, Paul McDermott, Ol’ Miss Daisy & The Caravan King.

Hmm … the way I read it they were all written and illustrated by Paul McDermott but, you know, I could be wrong! Whoever wrote them, though, they are delightful – dark, whimsical, and a little cryptic. The collection comprises one prose story, followed by five in verse form, and most read a little like fairy stories or fables. There’s usually a little point to ponder at the end, even if that point raises another question.

Take, for example, the first poem, “The Bread Girl and the Sparrow”. It is reminiscent of “The Gingerbread Man” which, Wikipedia tells me, is just one of many folktales about “runaway food”. Who’d have thought?  Anyhow, in McDermott’s story, in addition to the issue of trust, there are layers of sacrifice and loyalty between food and predator which adds quite an interesting philosophical twist.

There’s a Roald Dahl-esque edge to the stories. The humour is dark. These are not for (most) children. “Asleep/Awake”, for example, is about the sleeping (real) self meeting the dream self. The exhortation at the end, if you are suggestible, could very well bring on a nasty case of insomnia. You have been warned. I loved too “The man who thought (he was a fog)”, and McDermott’s suggestion that perhaps the initial assumption was not the right one at all. “You look for answers where you may/You find them when you can” he says, but, are you asking the right question?

If any single idea underlies the stories it is something about “self” – what is your “self”, do you protect it, how does it interact with others? Sacrifice – sometimes chosen, sometimes inadvertent – appears in a couple of the stories; the idea of alternative selves appears in others. There is also a sense of life not going to plan. It may not always be –

That evil and sorrow await the naive
At every twist and turn

– but it doesn’t hurt to always have your wits about you.

The poems are told in a fairly simple a-b-c-b rhyming pattern, but the line lengths vary at times to change the pace. McDermott, a comedian who lives by his words, is sure in his language, which is clear and unforced. The pencil drawings are delightful. You can feel the twinkle in his eye – the fun he is having – as you read the stories and look at the pictures. They made me chuckle.

And here I will end because this is a book that is best experienced rather than described or analysed. It’s a cheekily clever but also delightfully charming “little book”. It would, dare I say it, make a perfect stocking stuffer for the discerning reader on your gift list.

Paul McDermott
Fragments of the hole: an illustrated collection (or, Odds and ends, bibs and bobs, and little bits of nothing)
(fl smalls 6)
Braidwood: Finlay Lloyd, 2015
ISBN: 9780987592958

(Review copy courtesy Finlay Lloyd)

26 thoughts on “Paul McDermott, Fragments of the hole (Review)

  1. I have always been a big fan, of DAS and of Paul’s singing, which up close will knock your socks off. Mrs Legend (not x- in those days) and I used to go and see DAS perform in Fitzroy whenever they had a new show, after first seeing them on Wendy Harmer’s comedy show on the ABC (The Big Gig?). Anyway, now I just have to work out who to give this book to who will let me read it.

  2. I loved the DAAS, as much for the music and singing as their comedy. I was at just the right age when they were popular, and got to see them live at a pub one night in Launceston. I still love them—love Richard Fiedler’s interviews, Tim Flanagan’s books, and I’m sure I’d appreciate this one, too. Thanks for bringing it to our attention, Sue. x

  3. I have to ‘fess up: when I reviewed this set of books on my blog, I had not the faintest idea who Paul McDermott was, and until I saw the photo on your review here I was mildly embarrassed by your introductory remark: ‘If you’re an Australian, you are sure to know who Paul McDermott is’
    Well, I have seen his face somewhere – an ABC promo perhaps? but I am the living (unrepentant) proof that it’s possible to be an Australian and never to have encountered the Doug Anthony All Stars or anything else that he’s famous for.
    Off now to put a link under his name on my blog post so that people will know that it is he!

    • Ha ha, Lisa. I first really came to know him not so much through the Doug Anthony All Stars, which I had heard of but not specifically followed, but his Good News Week satirical show. I remember being very cranky when it moved from the ABC to commercial TV. We watched most of the series, particularly for McDermott’s opening monologue.

      • Ah, now I know why I never saw it. I don’t know if they still do because the TV is off even more now than it used to be, but the ABC used to put all their comedy shows on the same night of the week. We would watch the news and (usually) 7.30 and then the promos would come on and we’d think, hmm, no thanks, those sitcoms are unbearably inane, but maybe we’ll turn it back on for Good News Week – and of course by the time it came on we were deep in our respective books and had forgotten all about it.

  4. Pingback: FL Smalls, from Finlay Lloyd | ANZ LitLovers LitBlog

  5. Ah, Paul was always my favourite DAS. I don’t expect this book (or series) will ever be published in the UK but I will add it to my Oz wish list for my next trip to Australia.

    • No, I suspect that’s a big ask Kim – and Finlay Lloyd’s website doesn’t indicate any overseas outlets. I could always send you one if you liked. I’m sure I could run to that cost!!

      • That’s very kind of you, but there’s no need. I keep a list on my phone of Oz books to buy and sometimes I have a little splurge on Fishpond or I wait until the next trip Down Under. I’ve got more than enough to be getting on with since my last visit in October — think I bought a dozen books back with me and I haven’t made a start on them yet!

  6. This sounds like quite an entertaining little book! I know the story of the Gingerbread Man but I am intrigued by it being part of a sub-class of tales about runaway food! Wikipedia is quite cruel in not providing more information on that!

    • I’m sorry Gillian but I don’t … my copy is written all over, as I do with my books, and is thus pretty precious. Have you tried the National Library of Australia bookshop? I’d email them and see if they have any copies or could get any. I tried to google Finlay Lloyd but strangely they have dropped off the Internet so I am not sure what is happening there. If the NLA can’t help you let me know, and I’ll try to email the publisher.

      • I will ask them… I’ve googled everywhere no luck! I tried the publisher too. Gone out of the business I suspect. I’m in Canberra so I could have just popped over to pick one up. Thanks so much for getting back to me, much appreciated. If I get lucky I will let you know!

        Are you on Instagram or Facebook at all?

        • Yes, I’m on both, on Instagram as whisperinggums. I’m wondering if the publisher has finished up too, but I think he’s still around so will email him if you get no joy from the NLA. I love that you want to read it.

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