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Appreciation by Liam Pieper

19/04/2024
Appreciation by Liam Pieper

Australian author Liam Pieper has released a couple of fascinating and diverse works of fiction The Toy Maker about a Holocaust survivor and their family, and Sweetness and Light set around an ashram in India. But he also has a career as a ghost writer a career he wrote about in the Guardian earlier this year. Which brings us to Appreciation, a scorching satire of the art world which hones in on the issues of authenticity, artistic merit and voice.

When Appreciation opens Oli Darling, self-promoted “queer artist from the country” is at the top of his game and out to promote a long-awaited new collection of work. But too many substances and a long day of PR lead to a meltdown on a popular television show in which he utters some unpalatable Australian truths and his star starts to wane. The problem, as becomes very quickly clear, is that the value of Oli’s art is tied to his reputation and if his reputation tanks so does that value. His agent Anton has a plan – write a memoir, regain the narrative – and to do so brings in a ghost writer, herself a failed artist and art critic. But nothing is that simple.

Appreciation is trying to be a lot of things at once and is successful in some of them. Pieper succeeds in delivering a withering satire of modern Australian life and the vacuousness of the art world in particular. As the portrait of Oli, a young man from the bush who stumbled his way into fame, Pieper leans heavily of well worn tropes particularly his teenage relationship. In the background, hinted at for about two thirds of the book before bursting into the foreground when Anton is kidnapped, there is something resembling a thriller although with Oli at the centre of it more like an episode of Get Smart. And of course, there is the Ghost herself, and musings on the lot of the ghostwriter in all of this.

Oli is a reprehensibly egotistical and unaware character to spend time with and watching his struggles is exasperating but mostly enjoyable. Pieper delivers Appreciation with enough verve and humour to bring readers along, and then, just as attention is starting to flag turns up the tension and changes gears to a thriller that is more comedy of errors. Which is all to say that while Appreciation does not always work as well as it could, it often has relevant things to say about modern Australia and is, more importantly, always fun.

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Appreciation by Liam Pieper

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Appreciation by Liam Pieper

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