Australian Fiction

Slipstream by Roger McDonald

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June 1982, no. 41

Aviation was a myth still in the making to my generation of Australian children. We cricked our necks watching a patch of sky for Amy Johnson’s arrival and, indeed, whenever an aeroplane engine was heard aloft, as if the watching itself was a necessary act of will, or prayer, to ensure the safety of those magnificent men and women whose photographs showed them always ear-muffed, be-goggled and leather-jacketed, smiling and jauntily waving thumbs up to us their earthbound worshippers.

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Of Elizabeth Jolley’s first novel, Palomino (1980), Nancy Keesing said it ‘establishes Elizabeth Jolley as absolutely one of the best writers of fiction in this country’ (ABR, March 1981). Of The Newspaper of Claremont Street, Tom Shapcott said its ‘capacity to touch the very nerve centre of human fragility, of exposing the tragedy in human needs within the small comedy of existence, is something I have not seen done with such delicate balance and precision since the ‘Pnin’ stories of Vladimir Nabakov’ (Fremantle Arts Centre Broadsheet, January-February, 1982). Sally McInerney’s judgement of The Newspaper is that ‘this slight and disturbing novel sways between socio­political allegory (about work and non­human relations) and conventional storytelling, and the two elements work against each other’ (National Times, 17–23 January, 1982). I agree with Keesing and Shapcott, but can understand why McInerney might have come to her conclusion.

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In Overland back in 2006, Ken Gelder singled out Michelle de Kretser’s first novel, The Rose Grower (1999), as evidence of a contemporary Australian literature in crisis. Its foreign and historical setting, horticultural fetish, focus on private manners and primped prose, he argued, flaunted a rarefied and élitist aesthetics that wanted nothing to d ...

The Burial by Courtney Collins

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October 2012, no. 345

 In the cheeky biographical note on the press release for her first novel, The Burial, Courtney Collins expresses a wish that she might one day be ‘a “lady” poet’. If I had read that before reading the novel, I would have been slightly alarmed: with many notable exceptions, poets tend not to make good novelists. It is true that The Burial ...

Happy Valley is the first of Patrick White’s novels and it is a consistently compelling book, as well as the exhilarating performance of a great writer in the making. Everyone knows the legend, rooted in truth: that Patrick White finds his voice as a consequence of the war and after discovering the love of his life in Manoly Lascaris; and that the first i ...

Toni Jordan’s third novel, after the successful Addition (2009), takes its story from a photograph that graces the cover and that the author tells us she pondered for a long time. It is a romantic wartime scene, a crush of bodies at a Melbourne train station, mostly with soldiers bound for their unknown futures. A woman has been lifted by a stranger on the platform so she can farewel ...

Percy Grainger has been the subject of a number of books (most notably a 1976 biography by John Bird), a play (A Whip Around for Percy Grainger, 1982) by Thérèse Radic, and a feature film, Passion (1999), by Peter Duncan. He was an avid letter-writer, and his correspondence has been anthologised and critiqued. Thanks to his eccentric way of life and sometimes erratic behavio ...

Every migrant has a story. The past two decades have given us accounts of migration to Australia from so many Asian countries, and from so many viewpoints – sad, painful, funny, cynical, mystical – that little more seems left to tell. But now, out of Africa, comes a writer with a new and altogether more terrible tale.

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Fault Lines  by Pierz Newton-John

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September 2012, no. 344

In this collection of short stories from Pierz Newton-John, the author calls upon the suburban familiarity of a garden weed: couch grass, the fast-spreading pest whose rhizomes grow rapidly in a suffocating network, until the area it covers is ‘strangled’ and the custodian must ‘pull up the entire intractable tangle and start again’. This network of affliction that spreads throughout Ne ...

Hannah Richell’s début novel, Secrets of the Tides, undoubtedly enjoyed a boost in sales when it was named the Australian Women’s Weekly ‘Great Read’ for the month of May. A family drama in the style of Jodi Picoult, Richell’s first foray into the women’s fiction market has proved its author’s marketing savvy. A former professional marketer for Pan Macmillan, Ha ...