One of the most vitriolic opponents of the Homosexual Law Reform Bill was the National MP for Invercargill (1975-1987), Norm Jones. In 1981 he published a book called Jonesy. It is called a “heavily autobiographical” novel. It is in fact an autobiography with two weird bits in it, and I’m not sure why the author or the publisher or whoever it was who decided to say it was a novel didn’t just edit out the weird bits instead.
There is an author’s note at the start of Jonesy that says that the book is “really two parts of a three part book”. The third part covers his teaching and political career and is unpublished. The book Jonesy represents the other two parts: his years after leaving school working on farms, and his time in North Africa in World War Two. If you wanted one word summaries of part one and part two I’d suggest: sex and death.
Part one has some very peculiar moments. You can tell that it is going to be peculiar in the preface where Norm describes waiting on stage to speak in the hall of his former college. As he waits for his turn Norm has a vision:
The rows of students fade before my eyes and momentarily I’m back in my old college hall, again a student. The same faces yet somehow not the same and there are gaps in the rows – familiar faces missing. Slowly faces fill the gaps and with them memories come flooding. They are watching me, those in the gaps. I’m conscious of their eyes. They all look alike! Like what? That’s it – their eyes are full of understanding, clear and unafraid.
But it’s too late! For those in the gaps – their moment of truth and understanding came too late and when it came, it came with exploding metal slamming and tearing into living flesh. Yes, there’s time for truth and understanding with oozing excrement, pulsating blood and torn entrails bulging through horrified groping fingers.
Jesus! Norm, what’s going on?
He starts talking about running in fields, the smell of gorse, and the tender compassion in his mother’s eyes, before he comes to this:
The Libyan wind eddies the sand of the battlefield across the shattered, legless body.
Which leads me to believe he is talking about his experiences in World War Two, and the death of some of his former student friends. Either that or Norm dropped some LSD before he went to his old college to deliver a speech.
In the first part of his book Norm has some really memorable turns of phrase. The description of his first job in a foundry contains this gem:
I paused momentarily at the clay-smeared spout of the furnace which protruded like a stiff penis.
That’s quite an unexpected simile and stands out like, well, like a stiff penis in a chapter about working in a foundry. Genitals are going to be important in part one, however. In another chapter he describes working for a mountain-of-a-man called Hughie who he obviously admires enormously. Strangely he ends his catalogue of Hughie’s feats with this:
Another feature which surprised and intrigued me was the Hughie wasn’t as well endowed by nature as one would expect in one of his massive build. Well enough equipped, but I’d seen better on smaller blokes.
I said that the one word summary of part one would be “sex”. Considering that Norm doesn’t have any in the whole book this might seem strange, but he comes up with a way around this problem. There are two moments in the book where it is not written in the first person, and both of these third person moments describe the same thing.
In the first, after describing working on a farm and introducing us to the estranged husband and wife who run that farm, Norm “novelistically” imagines how this man and woman first met, and then – for reasons only Norm would be able to explain – switches the narrative point of view to that of the wife and recreates the first time she had sex with her future husband.
Lips tender and bruised, breasts crushed to his chest, thighs straining against his, her resolution not to submit flooded away in the rush of desire. She shed for Hobson clothes, frustrations, and repressed emotions in a frenzy of yearning that brought her naked, whispering endearments, frantically clutching him to her. A crying gasp at his penetration, then joining him in the rhythm of physical union, entreating him, urging him, until the final ecstasy and liquid warmth of their intermingled losses.
Remember, this is not Norm describing what he did, or saw, or – I’m guessing – heard about it, it is him imagining what it was like the first time his boss and wife had sex, largely from the point of view of the wife.
develops compounds this idea again when he – again – imagines the moment that a man working on the same farm as him first made love with the woman who would become his wife. Again, this final consummation is seen largely from the woman’s point of view:
Shirley clung to him mouthing endearments, arching, stretching and pressing herself to Ted, until the final frenzy and expiration of her passion left his hardness soft and spent within her.
This particular woman, Shirley, actually turns out to be a bit of a player, and she makes a play for our Norm. It must be a scene that Norm’s wife Marjory enjoyed reading later in life because it gets pretty steamy. I
like to think of it as the “dark triangular patch” scene; so often does he mention Shirley’s vagina in this way. Norm, you’ll be pleased to know, decides better of sleeping with Shirley and escapes the clutches of the dark triangular patch.
It is hard for me to imagine a sitting MP writing scenes like this in a book now, but I suppose anything can happen. In fact, scratch that, if John Key wrote a Mills and Boons I don’t think I would be surprised. Norm Jones seems to have that maverick quality that lets some people get away with things. Instead of being condemned everyone just rolls their eyes and goes: “that’s Jonesy for you”.
The eye roll relies on the person in question having some redeeming qualities and, after reading this review of part one of his book and knowing what he had to say about homosexuality, you might be surprised to learn that I can see those redeeming qualities.
It’s to do with rabbits.