Books & Literature

Book Review: A Man of Honour, by Simon Smith

HISTORICAL FICTION: A Man of Honour is a richly textured, lyrical reimagining of Henry James O’Farrell’s life, before and after the would-be assassination.


Feature image credit: Echo Publishing

Reviewed by Max Marten

In the thunder-dome of literature, where insipidness rains over the desolate expanse of creativity, there erupts Simon Smith’s A Man of Honour. This book is bold as brass, full of the pomposity of historical narratives with the might of a sunburnt Aussie cricketer wielding the willow like Excalibur. This book poleaxed me, right in the middle of my contempt for white fellas’ Australian history.

Diving into the fray, the opening gambit is a stark flashback to the Aussie sitting rooms of ’65, clear as day on page one. You’re there, in the mustiness and smell of yesteryear that’s equal parts homely and choke-worthy. Down the rabbit hole you plummet, a spectator to a regicide that rips through the veil of the cosmos. A gun-toting larrikin faces a brutal symphony of fists, a crowd bays for blood, and spirits skyrocket in an ethereal hoedown. That’s all before you’ve even to turn to page four. It’s a kick off that lays the groundwork for the hair-raising escapade that is A Man of Honour.

Fast forward to page 16, and you’re in a mini history lesson about a Gustavo Kopsch and his light bulb — a tip of the hat to history, delivered with deadly accuracy. From there, it’s a whirlwind jaunt from Paris to Rome as well as threading the needle through the British Empire, executed with a deftness that’d make even crusty history buffs take note.

But, it’s the bloodcurdling, stomach-churning trek to Port Phillip that really gets under your skin. You are an unseen traveller, gripping your typhoid-infested guts in agony, affirming this narrative as a historical gem.

Then there’s the church, that towering behemoth of catholic murmurs. It gets no quarter. A bigwig bishop storms in, causing a sanctimonious frenzy so potent you can near about catch the hushed confessions and holy promises shattering. Without a breather, you plunge into grimy depths of cloaked yearnings, a warren of taboo amour, and undercover passion. It’s a mute howl, the sort that rattles your core.

The Irish hunger is sketched with hues of woe, each dab a dirge of grief that latches onto you. You’re no mere onlooker; you’re a griever for a motherland — a collaborator in the annals of anguish.

Next comes a sly foxtrot through internal warfare, climaxing in a court spectacle that rivals Shakespearean history. The strain, the fire, the unadulterated cheek of the defence’s closing argument — it’s a tour de force of jurisprudence in societal delirium.

When the penny drops on page 258, laying stark the splintered life of Henry O’Farrell, you’re not just flipping through some book. You’re strapped into a literary thrill ride, with vertiginous peaks and spirit-sapping troughs of maltreatment, cloaked desires, and a life chucked aside.

This book is a full-blown literary insurrection, an unrepentant spree through a forgotten piece of Australian history that’d be happy in 19th-century watering holes or in the unblemished corridors of the ivory tower. Be warned: it doesn’t sugarcoat. It calls for respect and a decent handle on English. So, if you’re not prepared for wordplay of the 19th century, you may find yourself stretched. But, if you love naked truths and unabashed expression, this chronicle is a portal to human trials and tribulations worth your embrace.

Buckle up, and steel your wits for an odyssey that’ll rip through your grey matter like a bushfire through an Aussie summer. History this untamed doesn’t hang about for stragglers.

Reviewed by Max Marten
X: @AussieMaxMarten

The views expressed in this review belong to the author and not Glam Adelaide, its affiliates, or employees.

Distributed by: Echo Publishing
Released: February 2023
RRP: $32.99

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