Archive

Gay Bilson reviews 'Muck' by Craig Sherborne

Gay Bilson
Monday, 01 October 2007

If the central, not-made-much-of miracle in Craig Sherborne’s remarkable memoir Hoi Polloi (2005) is the disappearance of the narrator’s childhood stutter after a blow to the head, then the equivalent motif in Muck, Hoi Polloi’s equally fine sequel, is his voice.

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Peter Rose reviews 'Sunrise West' by Jacob G. Rosenberg

Peter Rose
Monday, 01 October 2007

Gunther Grass, in his suave and controversial memoirs, Peeling the Onion (Harvill Secker, 2007, trans. Michael Henry Heim), rehearses many of the modern autobiographer’s qualms about the biddability of memory. Grass, with his long history of attacking other Germans’ wartime activities while concealing his own service in the Tenth SS Armoured Division, has every incentive to question the memoirist’s primary tool. ‘When pestered with questions,’ Grass writes, ‘memory is like an onion that wishes to be peeled so we can read what is laid bare letter by letter. It is seldom unambiguous and often in mirror-writing or otherwise disguised.’ Changing metaphors, Grass contends with memory’s caprices and slippages: ‘Memory likes to play hide-and-seek, to crawl away. It tends to hold forth, to dress up, often needlessly. Memory contradicts itself; pedant that it is, it will have its way.’

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Jaynie Anderson reviews 'Albert Tucker' by Gavin Fry

Jaynie Anderson
Monday, 01 October 2007

Handsomely illustrated, beautifully produced and authoritatively written, Gavin Fry’s monograph on Albert Tucker aims to establish him as an important artist within the Australian twentieth-century canon. Fry begins his introduction with the statement that Tucker ‘was a man who inspired strong feelings and his work likewise required the viewer to make a stand. Many found his work difficult, some even repellent, but the artist and his art demanded attention. Equally gifted as a painter, and possibly more so as a draughtsman than his contemporaries Nolan, Boyd and Perceval, Tucker belongs with this élite who revolutionised Australian painting in Melbourne in the 1940s.’ But is this really so? Was Tucker really so much better than his contemporaries, or even as good as them?

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One of the hazards of election years these days is the quickie biography of the latest Opposition leader. As Simon Crean missed out on an election, so he missed out on a quickie. On the other hand, in 2004 his successor Mark Latham scored two – or three if we include Michael Duffy’s comparative study of the two political bruisers Latham and Abbott. Not that it did Latham, or probably the reputation of the authors, much good.

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Judith Wright and Barbara Patterson met at a gathering of the Barjai group, a Brisbane salon for young poets and artists, when Judith was almost twice Barbara’s age. Judith had not yet published her first collection, The Moving Image (1946). She read some poems and Barbara was magnetised.

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Last year, in the Australian Book Review/La Trobe University Annual Lecture series, Ian Donaldson gave a sparkling talk on biography. He told us that it has emerged as something of a cultural phenomenon in recent years, with a biography section at the front of many bookshops. We now know that the genre has endless possibilities (biographers have written about London, Paris, the pineapple and the potato), and that, despite its dissenters, biography has even become acceptable within the academy. My brother, a paediatrician who works in intensive care, has been known to end telephone conversations by saying: ‘Gotta go, got lives to save.’ Ever since Ian Donaldson’s talk, with its wonderful title, ‘Matters of Life and Death: The Return of Biography’ (ABR, November 2006), I have felt able to say: ‘Gotta go, got lives to write.’

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These are the final lines of a poem entitled ‘Endings 111’ in Tom Shapcott’s recently published collection of poetry, The City of Empty Rooms. The poem is included in the final two sections of the book devoted to memories of a Queensland childhood, more particularly recollections of growing up in the inland town of Ipswich. As David Malouf suggests in the blurb, ‘this is a late book that sometimes sharply, sometimes forgivingly looks back, but always with the freshness of things felt and seen anew in a living present’.

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I recently went back to New England. It is a long drive from Melbourne, but as I passed through Coonabarabran and Tamworth and began the ascent up the Moonbi Ranges, my gaze responded to the strange and familiar landscape. I periodically wound down the car window to smell the air – crisp but still warm for autumn. I grew up in a few different New England towns – Inverell, Glen Innes, Armidale – so I am familiar with the territory covered in the fascinating essays in High Lean Country. The high elevation of the Tableland makes the winters cold, summers mild. The dramatic landscape is dotted with granite mounds and monoliths. It is edged to the east by the escarpment and the gorge country of Judith Wright’s poems.

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At about the time that he was preparing the final drafts of The Waste Land, T.S. Eliot was preoccupied by a separate, but no less overwhelming question: when to sell his shares in the Hydraulic-Press Brick Company. In October 1922, the month the poem was published in the periodical he edited, the Criterion, Eliot wrote to his brother, Henry: ‘For myself, the important point is that Hydraulic should rise and give me an opportunity to sell when Sterling is low: it looks as if Sterling might fall a few points before very long. Do you think that Hydraulic will continue to pay dividends for the next year or so?’

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'The Disappearing Act of Translation' by Nicholas Jose

Nicholas Jose
Friday, 01 June 2007

The world we live in provides us with a great deal of information that is not really intended to inform. We must be informed, for example, that a phone call is being recorded for training purposes. Thus language becomes an accessory to the black arts of spin, propaganda, manipulation and arse-covering. Words are twisted and violated, making it difficult to recover the meanings, the distinctions, that we need. What was clear becomes murky, while murkiness is hidden behind a veneer of false clarity. Protean language becomes complicit in the world’s nefarious purposes. 

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