In an interview from the Sydney Morning Herald with author Paul Daley, he describes the character of Daniel Slattery from CHALLENGE as :
“a “cross between Mark Latham and Holden Caulfield”. “He's a misogynist, idealist, class warrior and economic rationalist, but he's principled," says Daley. "He cares about minorities including indigenous Australians and the poor. He has a fascination and old-fashioned respect for women, lives his political life as an allegory of sorts and likes to use his stories to illustrate how others less fortunate want to live their life. But he's a very angry man too." “*
Whilst the comparison with Mark Latham might provide some political watchers with pause for thought, there's no doubt that Slattery is an interesting, albeit challenging character – regardless of where the inspiration came from. There are more references, hints and reminders dotted throughout most of the characters in this book that could have you reaching for the reference materials. As CHALLENGE is as close to a one sitting read as it gets, it may be that you're not going to want to spare the time.
Despite Slattery's most outrageous moments, there's something sadly endearing about a politician with conviction. Like 'em or loathe 'em, Slattery's epiphany is to be honest. To say what he thinks, and to mean what he says. Hear that odd rustling noise? That's party machine apparatchiks everywhere fanning themselves and reaching for the tranquillisers. The thriller aspect of CHALLENGE then becomes about the campaign to undo Slattery's leadership, right at the time that the opposition has a chance of winning an election.
That the underhandedness of the campaign has the validity that it does in this novel is a sobering prospect. That the idea that a politician might actually make a commitment to stand up for something (other than getting elected) particularly saddening in the time around the death of Mr Whitlam. One of the tributes written about his time in politics that resonated particularly is that he was the last of the leaders who “appealed less to people's material instincts than to their better instincts.”** Whilst not for a moment could you compare the fictional with the real-life, there's something in this story, in this character that is saying something about the higher principle. Albeit from a somewhat dodgy, all too human starting-point.
Which is also part of his strength, and a reminder of what's so wrong about politics these days. Slattery is undeniably no perfect character. He has made, and continues to make some questionable personal decisions, just as many of us have done and do. And he will stand up and admit, even when it's painful to do so (and not just for him). It's very telling how things from his past are twisted, manipulated and used to pressure, and ultimately build or destroy somebody, all on the whim of the “faceless men”.
CHALLENGE is definitely a thriller in style, as the race to deflect the power brokers, and flush the games builds, alongside the pressure that Slattery, as Opposition Leader feels. Darkly funny at times, especially when getting the gloves off and stuck into the hypocrisy, and the stupidity, and the bastardry, it's a reminder of just how treacherous people can be. There's some telling insights into the havoc that a politician's lifestyle can visit on those around them, and whilst they might be rewarded financially, it's a reminder that money, as is power, can be a rather meaningless outcome.