Archive

When Irène Némirovsky’s Suite Française was first published in France in 2004, it created extraordinary interest for at least three reasons. Firstly, there was the story of the survival of the manuscript, preserved in an unopened suitcase for almost sixty years by Némirovsky’s daughters, Elisabeth and Denise, who had assumed that the papers in their possession were personal notes that would be too painful for them to read. Secondly, there was the documentation, provided in Myriam Anissimov’s preface and in a rich appendix, about Némirovsky’s life as an identified foreign Jew under Nazi occupation. Arrested in July 1942, interned in the Pithiviers camp, and deported almost immediately to Auschwitz, she died barely a month after her arrest, even as her husband and friends, ignorant of her fate, tried frenetically to save her. Finally, there was the novel itself, or rather, the two completed sections of what was intended to be a five-part epic narrative: a brilliantly rendered fresco of the French collapse in 1940 and the first years of German occupation, which earned Némirovsky, posthumously, the unparalleled honour of the prestigious Renaudot prize. With the English translation of the novel in 2006, she became an international celebrity. A Némirovsky biography, therefore, could hardly be more timely.

... (read more)

Gay Bilson reviews 'Edith Wharton' by Hermione Lee

Gay Bilson
Friday, 01 June 2007

I took to Edith Wharton in the late 1970s but don’t remember why. I have never forgotten the name of the heroine of the first of her books that I read: Undine Spragg, all soft promise dashed by that biting surname. This was The Custom of the Country (1913), and I read on: Ethan Frome (1912), Summer (1917), and The Children (1928), for instance. Someone offered me R.W.B. Lewis’s Edith Wharton: A Biography (1975), and a friend created space on his bookshelf by unloading The Collected Short Stories (edited and introduced by Lewis, who calls himself an ‘addict’). Much later, when the film of The Age of Innocence was released in 1993, I primly chose to read the novel rather than see a version of it. Then I left Edith Wharton, née Jones, born to wealth in 1862 in New York, on the shelf.

... (read more)

This volume is the fourth and last dealing with Australian writing in this American series of reference books. All four volumes have been edited by Selina Samuels; the editor and contributors are Australian. Fifty-seven writers who produced their first major work after 1975 are included.

... (read more)

Readers of The Australian could not fail to have noticed the numerous articles written by Kevin Donnelly over the last few years complaining about the ‘parlous’ state of Australian education. With extraordinary repetition, Donnelly has called for a return to a syllabus approach, the books of the canon and teacher-directed literature classes, where students are presented with universal truths.

... (read more)

David Gilbey reviews 'El Dorado' by Dorothy Porter

David Gilbey
Tuesday, 01 May 2007

Dorothy Porter’s verse novels are delicious and distancing, formal, fiery and frenetic. With the possible exception of What a Piece of Work (1999), they get better and better. Early on, El Dorado smacks you in the face and strokes your imagination with a ‘little girl’s / dead hand / … sticking stiffly / up / as if reaching / to grab an angel’s / foot’. Framed by epigraphs from Gilgamesh, Peter Pan and Wallace Stevens, an enigmatic gesture of thanks ‘for the magic snakes’, a stanza from Yeats’s ‘The Stolen Child’ and a prologue invoking the ‘thick alien ice’ of Europa, Porter’s latest verse novel is contextualised with multiple, allusive legendry. This is a work that invokes and reimagines, iconoclastically, various fantasies (Atlantis, Neverland, El Dorado), mythologies (Greek, Roman, Christian) and pop-ular culture fantasists such as Disney, the Beatles, the Flintstones, and literary allusions to Shakespeare, Keats, Donne, Dickinson, Stevenson, Doyle, Carroll, Twain. El Dorado is as much about how fantasy works as it is a fantastic detective narrative.

... (read more)

Last year I was invited to a literary festival celebrating writing about Antarctica. At the opening drinks session, I fell into conversation with a woman who, when she learned I was a participant, asked me if I had been ‘down south’. I said I hadn’t. She replied somewhat ungraciously, I thought, that she felt few would take me seriously in this forum because I hadn’t made the trip. I was taken aback, but still managed to mutter something in reply about Antarctica’s fascination as an imaginative space.

... (read more)

Canberra’s week of the two presidents – October 2003 – brought the unprecedented spectacle of George W. Bush and China’s President Hu Jintau speaking just a day apart to joint sittings of the Australian parliament. The coincidence elegantly dramatised the central questions for Australian foreign policy: how we manage our relationships with our superpower ally, how we live with our neighbours in Asia, and how we get the balance right between them. This has been the essential challenge for every Australian government since World War II. In his important new book, The Howard Paradox, Michael Wesley focuses on one side of that balance – relations with Asia – and on the Howard government.

... (read more)

Katherine Gallagher’s is a poetry of small spaces and objects, tiny hollows of memory that momentarily glow, incandescent, in the imagination: ‘knotted roots / reaching down into the riverbed’, ‘faces mottled in eucalyptus shade’, that place ‘beside the pond, in foaming clusters / creamy flowers of meadowsweet; / and there’s goatsbeard (‘jack-go-to-bed-at-noon’) / bird’s-foot trefoil, majoram and reeds.’ These latter lines are from the poem ‘Summer Odyssey (Railway Fields, for D.B.)’, an occasional poem for a small piece of land ‘Between Green Lane and the New River’s / four hundred-year-old waterway’. The poet spins from the ordinary and the overlooked a world of intricacy and quiet sensual power.=

... (read more)

In Doubling The Point (1992), one of J.M. Coetzee’s earlier collections of criticism, there is a long, closely argued essay titled ‘Confession and Double Thoughts: Tolstoy, Rousseau, Dostoevsky’. It has a more scholarly flavour than much of Coetzee’s subsequent non-fiction – collected in Stranger Shores (2001) and his latest volume, Inner Workings – but it is a characteristically lucid piece of analysis that throws an interesting light on his ideas about the imperatives of writing.

... (read more)

Michelle Griffin reviews 'Sorry' by Gail Jones

Michelle Griffin
Tuesday, 01 May 2007

A smattering of cultural theory is helpful when reading Gail Jones. The academic bones of her writing always show through the thin padding of her concept-driven stories: deconstructed photography in Sixty Lights (2005), technology and intimacy entwined in Dreams of Speaking (2006). It is more than disconcerting when the narrator of Jones’s third novel, Sorry, starts to interrogate the text with the aplomb of a Cultural Studies postgraduate, especially as the said narrator, Perdita, is a twelve-year-old girl living in Perth, in 1942, curled up in bed with a copy of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. ‘Since the first reader is the author,’ Perdita thinks to herself, ‘might there be a channel, somehow, between author and reader, an indefinable intimacy, a secret pact? There are always moments, reading a novel, in which one recognises oneself, or comes across a described detail especially and personally redolent; might there be in this covert world, yet another zone of connection?’

... (read more)