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manvschildDominic Knight’s third novel is a return to the snappy observational humour and romance of his debut Disco Boy.

In today’s celebrity-obsessed world, we can imagine the pumped-up egos and diva behaviours encountered by those working in the entertainment industry. Directors and producers deal with tantrums on a regular basis; and that’s just when working with adult stars. Surely, the last thing they could want is to go home to a pool of baby vomit and dirty nappies?

At least this is the opinion of Dan, a 30-something stand-up comedian and radio producer who is the hero of Dominic Knight’s new book, Man vs Child:

Why do people even have these child things? They mustn’t know. The narcissistic pleasure of creating a miniature version of yourself wouldn’t be enough to lure people into it if they really knew the screaming hideousness that awaited them.

After witnessing dozens of his friends fall out of the social routine of beers and late nights in favour of babies and family time, Dan finds himself alone and, in general, is pretty happy about that. He wonders why anybody would bring another screaming child into the world when he has enough babysitting to do in his daily job as producer of the ‘Brekkie Brewhaha’. Dan decides his next stand-up routine will be about his commitment to a child-free life, and sets about writing Man vs Child. But the reappearance of Penny, his high school crush and newly single mother of one, threatens to change his lifestyle dramatically.

Knight draws on his own experiences in radio and as one of the founders of the Chaser to portray Dan’s world. From the detailed way he analyses each joke in his comedy routine, to his hidden insecurities, Dan is presented as an open and believable protagonist:

I began to hate that ad lib halfway through delivering it, but it still gets a smattering of laughs. Bless these lovely, or drunk, people.

It becomes clear in Dan’s dealings with Penny, his colleagues and his parents, that a genuinely nice guy lies underneath the immature exterior. Readers are led to dislike antagonists like the repulsive Bry Dynamite and the simpering Silly Sally almost as much as they empathise with Dan. Indeed, characterisation using snappy dialogue and simple description is a strong point of Knight’s writing. The city of Sydney is a character of its own, with the contrast between the world of stand-up venues in the Inner West and the terraced houses in Paddington setting the tone for many scenes:

Tonight I’m doing a spot at a pub in Glebe called the Harold Park Hotel. They’ve given me ten minutes, and the room’s packed on a Tuesday night because this place is an institution.

Those who have read Disco Boy will notice some familiar patterns in this novel. It’s hard not to wonder how much of Knight himself is in the character of Dan, such is the believability of the situations. Readers may also recognise many of the archetypal characters: from the parents who are concerned about their son’s lack of direction to his friends who are obsessed with their offspring. Like the character of Paul in Disco Boy, Dan is only noticed by women like Sally when his career is on the rise. The stereotypes still work well here, but there’s a danger of them growing old if Knight pulls them out for a fourth offering.

Man vs Child accurately portrays the experiences of a generation of Sydneysiders with the same career dilemmas, friendships and worries as Dan. It is a heartwarming and funny story, a page-turner as much for the depth of the secondary characters as it is for Dan’s own personal journey.

Dominic Knight Man vs Child Random House Australia 2013 PB 320pp $32.95

Suzanne Rath is an avid reader and writer who contributes to ArtsHub, Sydney Arts Guide and Backyard Opera. In her spare time, she is working on her first novel and feature film. 

You can buy this book from Booktopia here or from Abbey’s here.

To see if it is available from Newtown Library, click here.