A rat died in the living room at King Street and we didn't know. There was at least six inches of compacted rubbish between our feet and the floor. Old Ratty must have crawled in there and died of sheer pleasure. A visitor uncovered him while groping about for a beer that he'd dropped.
has lived with eighty-nine different people across Australia
and assiduously kept notes on all of them. This is their story. Rather than forming these notes into a coherent narrative
, Birmingham presents them as a shambolic
set of vignette
s - as utterly unordered and as filthy
as the domestic purgatory
in which he dwelled.
Published in 1994 this novel became a cult Australian bestseller. Anyone familar with communal living knows of the flatmates having wild monkey sex, the danger and randomness of living with stoners or skinheads or Marxist vegans, and the general sense of both desperation and depravity. But few have managed to collapse the experience into written form.
The bestseller led to a successful stage play, and then film directed by Richard Lowenstein, starring Noah Taylor and Sophie Lee in 2001. Rather than simply keeping the film as a series of disconnected vignettes, Lowenstein's adaptation follows a central character (Danny, played by Noah Taylor) through three households, and three Australian cities. Danny is chased from city to city by real estate goons from Brisbane, corrupt Melbournian cops, and Sydneyite debt collectors. In turn, Danny chases the dream of becoming a writer, and a bizarre love triangle forms between his former housemates.
As is expected with book to film conversions, diehard fans of the book hated the film. Incidents from the book, such as a throwaway line regarding Black Mass and the Hills Hoist become entire scenes for character development. The title story makes it into the film - one of Birmingham's junky housemates buys a felafel with his fix, and overdoses while watching late night TV, felafel in hand. However, the narrative flow of the movie is generally antithetical to the disjunctive nature of the novel. It is admirable that Lowenstein could string it together into something resembling a "plot".
Birmingham's second novel, The Tasmanian Babes Fiasco is essentially a continuation of Felafel, but this time with a narrative.