If you haven’t seen it, make sure you check out Louis Nowra’s review of Bob Ellis’ latest, And So It Went: Night Thoughts In A Year Of Change, in yesterday’s ALR. Nowra’s criticism can be a bit up and down (though whose isn’t?) but this piece is pure gold, systematically, stylishly and very wittily dismantling not just the book, but Ellis himself, his immense self-importance, the disconnect between his supposed values and his personal behaviour, and perhaps most tellingly, the disproportionate relationship between his reputation and his actual achievements as a writer and public figure.
What will be most interesting though, is what Ellis decides to do about the piece. Ellis is, of course, the man who cost Random House more than a quarter of a million dollars by making untrue and extremely unsavoury claims about Tanya Costello, wife of the former Treasurer, Peter Costello. Whether that was an appropriate outcome or not is a matter for another time (you’d probably be unsurprised to learn that despite the recent changes I think Australia’s defamation laws still need further reform, and that large payouts are a totally inappropriate remedy) but what’s most notable about the case is that Ellis himself is not only utterly unrepentant about his actions, but has actually repeated the smear in at least one public forum I’ve attended (thereby exposing the organization involved to potential legal action, an act of gross irresponsibility in and of itself).
I’m not sure the Nowra piece is actually defamatory, and I’ve no doubt News Ltd’s lawyers have picked over it pretty carefully (which raises the amusing question of what, if anything, was taken out) but it comes pretty close, which means Ellis could, at least in principle, sue Nowra and News Ltd. Would he do it? Obviously I don’t know, and I wouldn’t want to assume anything, but I’d have to say that ironic as such an outcome might be, it wouldn’t seem entirely out of character, not least because Ellis so often seems to exist in a parallel universe in which all roads lead, inevitably, to Bob.