from the editor's desk

Review of ‘Factory 19’ by Dennis Glover

Glover, Dennis. Factory 19. Carlton: Black Inc, 2020. RRP: 32.99, 368pp, ISBN: 9781760641764.

Elena Perse

Emerging Critics on the Editor’s Desk

2021 marked the first iteration of a new Westerly initiative: our Emerging Critics Program. Designed to support both the Higher Degree by Research community at UWA, and to work in partnership with Pelican (UWA’s student magazine), we hoped to provide editorial guidance and mentorship, as well as publishing opportunities, for a small group of up-and-coming critics. The fruits of this process will be seen on the Editor’s Desk in special posts spanning December and January 2021-2022. The successful applicants for the Program were chosen in two ways: nomination by Pelican’s 2021 editors, Riley Faulds and Millie Muroi, and by the Westerly team after applications from HDR students across the Humanities. We’re so pleased with the calibre of work our first Emerging Critics have put forward, and can’t wait to introduce these new critical voices to our readers!

It’s the year 2022.

The newest season of The Crown is rehashing Prince Charles’ Covid diagnosis, activists are decrying the influence of mobile phones and, in Canberra, overworked millennial speechwriter Paul Richey is on the brink of a breakdown. This is the world of Factory 19, Dennis Glover’s reimagining of Australia’s rapidly approaching future. Factory 19 is built around Dundas Fausett and his Galley of Future Art (GoFA), thinly veiled likenesses of eccentric billionaire David Walsh and Hobart’s Museum of Old and New Art (MONA). When the museum mysteriously closes down Tasmania is plunged into stagnant recession. And the state languishes, forgotten, until Faussett finally makes his reappearance, announcing his newest, boundary-pushing brainchild: the titular Factory 19.

Factory 19 is, Faussett proudly asserts, ‘a new community […] set in the best time to be alive’ (64): March, 1948. According to him, the root of all society’s problems is the computer. His solution? Going back in time and circumventing all the issues stemming from computers by sidestepping their existence entirely. The Factory’s employees have gone back in time, restarting from their own Year Zero—a month before the invention of the first commercial computer. ‘Low-tech, low-stress Hobart’ (28) is the perfect place for these converted Luddites to avoid the world of Amazon, Apple and Uber. Instead, they live in the good old days, work 9–5 at the Factory, and start each day with a cooked breakfast.

Among these digital refugees is our narrator, Paul Richey. Recuperating from the world’s first documented case of ‘digital proximity anxiety’ (26), Paul is out of place in the modern world. After all, who ever heard of a millennial with ‘smartphone shock’ (26)? Banished from Canberra to the backwaters of Tasmania, he explains: ‘I couldn’t live surrounded by the digital economy, so rather than send me to a modern city, they sent me to Hobart’ (28). Eventually, his fortunes change, and Paul is recruited as a manager of the Factory, achieving the almost impossible: snagging a stable job as a humanities graduate. Under his careful eye, the Factory thrives. But, before long, cracks start to appear in the Factory’s perfect façade. Bereft of modern medicine and constrained by increasingly conservative politics, tensions begin to rise. It quickly becomes clear that nostalgia is no panacea for the crippling pressure of the modern world.

Dennis Glover explores what life might be like if we could turn back the clock and put the world on a different path. The idea behind Factory 19 is simple: not just resetting or recalibrating our digital society but escaping it altogether. The Factory is an opportunity to go analogue, for good. However, Factory 19 complicates this notion of the good old days by pondering the limits of escapism and the darker side of arcadia: Glover warns against an uncritical acceptance of the past and the blinding power of nostalgia. As a former political speechwriter and the author of two books on George Orwell, it is clear that in writing Factory 19, Glover has put his own spin on the concept of Orwell’s 1984; Factory 19 acknowledges the issues of the 21st century, but pushes back against the conception of the past as a carefree wonderland. From where we’re standing, 1948 has its own set of inescapable troubles.

While evidently critiquing the circumstances that inspired the escapist sci-fi sanctum of the Factory, Glover clearly harbours a great deal of fondness for the heyday of factory life. Raised by factory workers in a town not dissimilar to Factory 19, Glover never begrudges his characters the chance of a happier life in the past. In the Factory, everyone has their place and a life worth working for, punctuated by breaks for ‘elevenses’. The nostalgia that seeps into every element of Factory 19 is treated affectionately, and before the reality of 1940s life sets in, even readers firmly entrenched in the 21st century can catch a fleeting glimpse of a past worth giving up the future for.

Factory 19’s lavish descriptions of clothing, interior design and technology read like a love letter to the ’40s. No detail is spared as Glover sets the faux 1948 scene:

In their overalls, dust coats and flannel suits, and with their hair neatly Brylcreemed or held under colourful headscarves, they looked for all the world like extras in an Ealing Studios Comedy. Most were carrying their factory-issued lunchboxes; others, brown paper bags and thermos flasks. An orchestra piece that I later discovered was ‘Fanfare to the Common Man’ was being played over the tannoy. (105)

It’s hard to deny that the Factory has a certain allure. The promise of a guaranteed job that won’t be taken by a robot is a tempting one, and, as Faussett quips, ‘there are no tea and lamingtons in the gig economy’ (67). I, for one, can’t say for sure that I wouldn’t be drawn in by the Factory’s appeal. Faced with the unshakeable hold that technology has on our lives, workhorse bosses and the ever-encroaching threat of climate change, simply giving up on the damage that we have caused and instead starting afresh is an attractive option.

But, ultimately, the passage of time continues, and progress marches on. And, at its heart, Factory 19 poses the question: can you ever truly shut yourself off from it all?

Elena Perse is a Boorloo (Perth)-based independent bookseller and postgraduate student. She is studying a Master of Professional Writing and Publishing at Curtin University and holds a Bachelor of Arts (English and French) from the University of Western Australia.

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