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ABR Arts

Book of the Week

A Memoir of My Former Self: A life in writing

A Memoir of My Former Self: A life in writing by Hilary Mantel, edited by Nicholas Pearson

In the title piece of this posthumous selection of reviews, criticism, essays, and journalism, Hilary Mantel describes how she once visited an irritating psychic she nicknamed ‘Twerp’ in order to guide her back to her former self: ‘I didn’t necessarily think I had a past life, but I wanted to know how it would feel if I did.’ Her former self turns out to have been a ‘miserable illegitimate infant’ called Sara, born to a family of millworkers in the north of England. Sara isn’t an unlikely candidate: Mantel’s mother worked in a cotton mill from the age of fourteen, as did her maternal grandmother, who left school aged twelve; Mantel’s great-grandmother had been illiterate. Mantel comes from ‘a long line of nobodies’. All that ‘Twerp’ wants to ask Sara is whether or not she is courting, when the real love of Sara’s life is Billy, her white bull terrier. ‘If Sara had slapped him,’ Mantel wonders, ‘what sort of a defence would I have had to a charge of assault?’




From the Archive

May 2004, no. 261

The Diaries of Miles Franklin edited by Paul Brunton

The publication of Miles Franklin’s diaries, written during her years in Australia from 1932 until her death in 1954, must be one of the year’s major literary events. events. Franklin, who frequently lamented her relative neglect in the contemporary literary culture of the 1930s and 1940s, has become steadily more and more visible since the 1970s, when international feminism discovered My Brilliant Career (1901). Meanwhile, much of her continuing significance is due secondarily to the extensive biographical research by Jill Roe and others.

Primarily, Paul Brunton’s source is the enormous archive of letters, manuscripts, reviews, notebooks, and diaries that Franklin left to the Mitchell Library. Brunton has mined this archive with great sensitivity and fine scholarship. This volume has a balanced introduction placing the entries in the context of Franklin’s life, explanatory footnotes through the text, a glossary of names, a bibliography of Franklin’s published works, a list of manuscript sources, an index and photographs. An occasional editorial note is inserted tactfully as a biographical signpost.

From the Archive

October 2011, no. 335

The Street Sweeper by Elliot Perlman

In 2003, the year in which Elliot Perlman’s previous novel Seven Types of Ambiguity was published, the eminent gadfly David Marr suggested that Australian novelists failed to address major contemporary social concerns. As if anticipating Marr’s criticisms, Perlman wove a plot that involved stock market speculation (and peculation), upmarket Melbourne brothels, privatised prisons, privately managed health care, downsizing and unemployment in the education sector, the crisis in the humanities, economic rationalism, globalisation. Late-twentieth-century capitalism and its discontents, in short. The novel obviously spoke to the judges of the Miles Franklin Award, who shortlisted it for that pre-eminent, if contentious, prize.

From the Archive

September 2012, no. 344

Jolley Prize 2012 (Winner): 'Patterns in Nature' by Sue Hurley

In 1979 in the town of Paradise Lake, women of fifty favour blue knitwear and Peter Jackson cigarettes. They cook sponges without a recipe, don’t mind a brandy and dry, and love their grandchildren with an intensity that takes some of them by surprise. They’re most readily distinguished, one from another, according to their golf handicaps and the generosity of their judgements.