Book Review: Man in a Grey Suit

July 17, 2012 by Alan Gold
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In a tragic coincidence, just as Glenn Ogias releases his book on his survival of an attack by a Great White shark, Australia’s news and commentary programs are full of stories about swimmers taken in Western Australia. Suddenly, everybody wants to question whether these monsters of the deep should be stripped of their protected status…writes Alan Gold.

Glenn Ogias

This Australian conversation, following five deaths in ten months off Western Australia’s beaches, is an indication of how deep within our psyche is our fear of shark in general, and the Great White in particular. Stephen Spielberg exploited this fear in one of his earliest movies, Jaws, which is still ranked as one of the scariest films ever made.

Of course, the reality is that shark attacks are rare, and casualties are minimal compared with road fatalities or drug overdoses.  Taronga Zoo keeps records of shark attacks, and until very recently, the average was one fatal incident a year since 1791. In the past 20 years, and until the latest spate in WA, there have only been 24 recorded fatalities in this country. No doubt, the statistic will be revised following the recent incidents, but what it highlights is the rarity of shark attacks. Yet unlike road fatalities, every shark fatality is front page news.

What really terrifies us, a beach and sea culture surrounded by the world’s greatest coastline and most pristine beaches, is the man in a grey suit, the personification which surfers use for the Great White shark. The sea’s most sophisticated predator, designed for speed, attack, hunting and pillaging, the Great White is the world’s most terrifying fish

In his book, Man in a Grey Suit, Glenn Orgias gives us what is the rarest of all accounts, that of a man attacked by a Great White who lives to tell the tale. And the story he tells is one of terror counterbalanced by an overwhelming desire to live and be a husband and father.

One evening in February 2009, Orgias was surfing at Bondi Beach when, in company with a pack of other surfers, he was attacked. The incident is best told in his own words:

            “The great white was four years old…just passing through Bondi…almost 200 kilograms. Its diet was changing. It was big enough to start eating seals and mammals…I was 70 metres from shore and 10 metres from a pack of surfers in front of me…..My left arm was shoulder-deep in the water. My arm was grabbed. I didn’t feel the teeth. I reflexively pulled my arm towards me. I came off the board and didn’t have time to yell before I went under. It was strong. Its aggression was impersonal and savage….Ferocious and in control, the great white shook its head. I couldn’t see anything beyond the dark water. Before I could comprehend what was happening, I was released. I groped for my board. “

The shark released Orgias because it was ‘tasting’ him. When the fish realized that Orgias wasn’t a seal or penguin, it moved on. But Orgias’ hand was severed at the wrist, held on only by a flap of skin. He paddled back to shore helped by others, and there was one thing only on his mind – his need to survive for his wife Lisa who was pregnant with their first child.

Since then, Orgias has returned to a normal life, wears a prosthetic hand, and spends his spare time promoting the blood service which saved his life. And he still surfs and swims regularly.

His first-person account is more than a book about a shark attack; we are introduced to a man of considerable courage, one whose life could have been devolved into self-pity and resentment. But instead we meet a man who has been through one of the most traumatic experiences imaginable, yet whose strength of character shines through in every page


Alan Gold is a Sydney-based novelist whose latest book, Bell of the Desert, is published in America

Glenn Orgias is the son-in-law of  Alan and Anne Slade. Alan Slade is a long-time JNF stalwart.

Man In A Grey Suit


Glenn Orgias

Penguin/Viking; 273 pages


One Response to “Book Review: Man in a Grey Suit”
  1. Isn’t it interesting that survival stories from the most dangerous (to humans) creatures are so few and far between. The tiny mosquitos are by far the most dangerous and as a malaria survivor (got it when I worked in Bangladesh back in the 1970’s) I can appreciate that mosqito attacks are not ‘sexy’ nor as physically dramatic as shark attacks, but even more deadly. I ask this question of our more spiritual and religious commentators: why is it that we live on a planet that has so many dangers?

    Of course, humans are the most dangerous predators here – to all life – but why the bugs and the microbes, viruses and bacteriums? Is it like we have an obstacle course to go through to have a complete, fulfilled life? Please don’t regard this as a frivilour enquiry, I would appreciate comment as I am a man who has a terminal illness caused by a virus wich I did not invite through lifestyle or other choices. I am in great admiration for people such as Glen who bravely go into shark’s territory, but I do know it was his choice and must have been for some recreation purposes. Just living now is a great challenge for me. I guess I’m just bleating now, so dismiss this comment if you so wish.

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