Accessibility Tools

  • Content scaling 100%
  • Font size 100%
  • Line height 100%
  • Letter spacing 100%

Brian Matthews

What’s your point?

Dear Editor,

John Carmody, in the June issue, writes a letter loaded with tendentious and pejorative language to accuse me of thundering and provocation in my review of Richard J. Lane’s Fifty Key Literary Theorists (March 2007). Carmody portrays me as self-satisfied in the same breath as he refers to his own wryness. He advises me to use words more ‘clearly and carefully’, and then composes a sentence in which ‘eliding’ creates a ‘mélange’. He charges me with portentousness in a letter that consists almost entirely of windy rhetorical questions. I have only one question: what is his point?

... (read more)

I was thinking a while back about some of the ways novels begin; not just the famous ones – ‘Happy families are alike’ etc, ‘Call me Ishmael’, ‘Unemployed at last’ – but also some contemporary examples. If I had read Michael Wilding’s National Treasure at that time, I would have conscripted it immediately: ‘Plant slipped down lower in his car seat as the man down the street was beaten up.’ Resounding first sentences often create the problem of where and how to proceed. Wilding manages very well: ‘He was quite a young man being beaten up, and the men beating him up were quite young too. So was Plant for that matter. Young. This was a young country. A young culture.’ These few lines signal quite a lot about how things are to unfold: the blandly matter-of-fact nature of the observation, so at odds with the nastiness of what is being observed; the non sequiturs breaking wildly beyond the apparent bounds of the narrative; and that isolated word ‘Young’, with its insistence, its tinge of impatience lest an obvious point be missed. My little burst of close critical reading is intended to foreshadow that among National Treasure’s various treasures is some wonderful writing.

... (read more)

My father, Brian Matthews, who has died of cancer aged eighty-five, was a contributor to Australian Book Review for forty years. He enthusiastically supported the journal from the early days of its re-establishment in 1978 under the editorship of John McLaren. He wrote for it prolifically under later editors – never more so than under the current editorship.

... (read more)

Australians and New Zealanders know it as the Tasman Sea or more familiarly The Ditch: for Māori, Te Tai o-Rēhua. Significant islands in this stretch of water are Lord Howe and Norfolk. As seen from New Zealand, the island most Australians probably don’t know offhand and, when they are told about it, might feel inclined to reject its name as, well, cheeky: it’s West Island – Australia in short.

... (read more)

In August 1964, Charmian Clift returned to Australia from the Greek island of Hydra after nearly fourteen years abroad. As Paul Genoni and Tanya Dalziell portray her return – a description based, as always in this book, on solid or at least reasonably persuasive evidence – she ‘was leaving her beloved Hydra ...

... (read more)

The editors begin their introduction to Antipodean Perspective with some ground clearing: ‘The putting together of a series of responses to an important scholar’s work is a classic academic exercise. It is undoubtedly a worthy, but also necessarily a selective undertaking. In German it is called a Festschrift

... (read more)

Of the now twelve novels that make up Rodney Hall’s distinguished prose fiction – ranging from The Ship on the Coin (1972) to this year’s A Stolen Season – it is arguably in the latter that the task of remaking is most explicitly and adventurously undertaken, even literally in the case of Adam Griffiths. As an Australian ...

... (read more)

As Ratty observed to Mole, ‘There is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.’ In Roger McDonald’s A Sea-Chase, lovers Wes Bannister and Judy Compton would certainly agree, but before they achieve Ratty’s state of nautical transcendence much that does matter has to be dealt with.


When some years ago I read Jim Davidson’s outstanding biography, Lyrebird Rising (1994), I was initially concerned by what seemed to be his potentially distorting fascination with the scene-stealing Louise Hanson-Dyer. But I soon discovered I needn’t have worried. Jim Davidson is not the sort of biographer whose obsession with his subject overcomes prop ...

Dymphna by Judith Armstrong

March 2017, no. 389

In the summer of 1988 I was part of an Adelaide Writers Week symposium on biography, the stars of which were two justly famous and accomplished biographers – Victoria Glendinning and Andrew Motion.  I described that occasion at the time, like this:

I greatly admired Motion’s panache. As we ascended the podium to begin the se ...