For Newtown Review of Books:
Typically, reviews begin with a snippet from the book in question or with a short description of the work and its main concerns. In form and content, Bernard Cohen’s The Antibiography of Robert F Menzies resists both such openings. Part novel and part exegetical commentary, this satirical and inventive book is many things at once: fictional and critical, factual and fantastical, anxious and passionate, funny and searching, disjointed and odd.
Taken purely on plot, the story is farcical. Recalled from the doldrums of Australian history by the new government of John Howard in 1996, former prime minister Robert F (but not G) Menzies appears in Canberra as a spectral force: ever-present but never quite in focus for press gallery or public. At first listened to by the new government, Menzies soon becomes a mere prop for photo-ops and is eventually banished from the stage entirely. Alienated, he takes to the bush, traversing an Australia he both does and does not recognise. But Menzies’ reappearance has not gone unnoticed. Years past deadline for a biography of the former prime minister, the self-involved ‘Bernard Cohen’ instead spirals into writing something else altogether: an ‘antibiography’ that leads him into fabricated identities, endless subterfuges to distract his publisher, and increasingly bizarre quests for evidence of the ghostly Menzies.