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Review by Paul Grogan
Oh yes, this story again – and it’s a good one
The title of Emeritus Professor Simon Chapman’s memoir, Oh No, Not This Story Again, suggests a tabula of tales told taller than true.
Don’t be fooled. Not This Story Again is much more than a rakish raconteur’s well-worn repertoire.
For one thing, it’s all true. (Corroborated by reliable sources.) Yet it’s a page-turner from start to finish. The locations, the zeitgeist (ever-changing over six decades) and the extraordinary situations facing ordinary people require no exaggeration. From Bathurst to the Baltic, Khartoum to Kandahar, Chapman takes the reader on a wild ride just by being there and having an educator’s eye for context – and an adventurer’s penchant for being the story, almost catastrophically at times.
Indeed, what makes Not This Story Again compelling is its unwritten premise: that a life in public health can be more like a Bond movie than an educational film, if its protagonist should choose to accept the mission. (Apologies for the mixed action movie metaphors, but the chapters in Uganda and the Caribbean conjure Sean Connery or Daniel Craig, not Tom Cruise.)
And what makes it better than a ripping yarn is the irony, poignancy and humanity. Musings about life’s lottery, love and death, friends found and lost, enchanting imagery brought to ground by what happened later – it’s paced like the work of a professional, which Chapman is, having published countless opinion pieces in mainstream media. This one, however, is more observation than opinion and reads as it would sound, over a vintage red after dinner.
Baby boomers will also enjoy the chronology – a world that evolved for all of us, as seen by a country boy who motorcycled into academia and planed, trained and sailed away with it, to the four corners of the earth. Moreover, although writing a memoir can be the mark of healthy self-esteem, Not This Story Again is also delightfully self-deprecating.
One final tip: there is a table of contents and the vignettes are self-contained, but resist the urge to go straight to where you think the action will be. Not This Story Again is a linear narrative in separate but interrelated pieces, rewarding the reader who takes the journey from page one to the end of the line.
Paul Grogan is a Sydney-based adviser on health strategy and a former journalist and guitarist in Chapman’s bands, The Original Faux Pas and The Bleeding Hearts.