Penguin

Best of Friends by Suzy Baldwin & Friends and Enemies by Dorothy Rowe

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May 2001, no. 230

A collection of interviews with women about friendship? Well, we are all experts on the topic, and all have stories to tell. The women interviewed by Suzy Baldwin for this collection all speak fluently on the topic of friendships present and past: with women, sexual and not; with men, gay and straight; and with their partners, mothers, sisters, brothers, and children. Baldwin’s elegant introductory essay begins and ends autobiographically, but also ranges historically and philosophically amongst a number of writers about friendship, male and female, asking what is specific to women’s friendships.

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A Geelong psychiatrist once asked someone very like me, ‘What’s the opposite of love?’ It was a bit like a question in a tutorial (psychiatrists and academics do have a thing or two in common). The answer, of course, couldn’t be so obvious as ‘hate’. It was ‘indifference’.

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Eat Well and Stay Out of Jail by Leonie Stevens & Perfect Skin by Nick Earls

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April 2000, no. 219

‘Look, here I am, I’m sixteen and I’m hundreds of miles from home! I want adventure! I want excitement! I want to boldly go where no Noble has gone before. Look at me! Look! Look!’ In Leonie Stevens’s Eat Well and Stay Out of Jail, Vicky Noble has left Melbourne to escape the tedium of a shelf-stacking job at the supermarket and the torment of a publicly failed romance. Vicky wants more than just to run away from her life. She craves a brand new one, preferably on the Jack Kerouac model.

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Andrea Goldsmith’s second novel, Modern Interiors, is about a family, and marked out by its goodies and baddies. This is a moral novel about capitalism and the choices open to people within its system. Goldsmith uses outrageous caricatures to represent the baddies – those seduced and corrupted by the family’s damned money. And all of the goodies have an interest in and strenuously pursue the higher knowledges – poetry and fiction, philosophy and philanthropy. They are all good, and fair-minded people, if sometimes with too much sweetness and light.

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Marion Halligan’s new novel has as its centrepiece, shiny and assertive, flagged by its title, a dress made with loving care but, nonetheless, improvised just so that the fabric will go far enough. A dress that Molly Pellerin wears to a party at the laundry where she works, an event that becomes a defining moment in her life, the dress a legacy, offering an image of Molly as dazzling, beautiful, and loved. The photograph sustains her memory, potently, permanently.

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Vanity Fierce by Graeme Aitken & Gay Resort Murder Shock by Phillip Scott

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June 1998, no. 201

Popular fiction is often character-driven. An immediate distinction between these heavily-populated novels would be that if I met the main protagonist of Scott’s book I’d want to have coffee with him whereas if I met Aitken’s I’d want to slap him.

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Still fondly remembered as one of the Doug Anthony Allstars, although most recently known for biding his time in the depths of Channel Nine between those twin peaks of high culture, Don’t Forget Your Toothbrush and Little Aussie Battlers, Tim Ferguson has obviously not been idle, instead indulging in everyone’s favourite pastime – Canberra-watching. Inspired (or possibly horrified, if Left, Right and Centre is anything to go by) by what he has seen, Ferguson has created a monster – Luther Langbene.

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It is a truism that poets don’t need to write their autobiography. Roland Barthes, with his ‘death of the author’, may have thought otherwise but in Barbara Giles’ new book, Poems: Seven Ages, published in her eighty-seventh year, there is no mistaking the autobiographical core.

Though neither the title nor the blurb suggests it, Poems: Seven Ages is really a ‘selected’. Giles has gone back over her four earlier books, chosen what she (or perhaps her editor, Judith Rodriguez) thinks are the best poems and arranged them in chronological order according to subject, rather than date of composition or publication. Thus we have sections corresponding with her childhood in England, her earlier married life, her mid-life preoccupations, and the poems on women’s ageing from which she has been most anthologised.

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‘Gordon Jacobs …’ Glass’s voice echoed around the columns of City Hall’s marble foyer as they climbed the stairs to Tuesday Reed’s office. He was as bitter, as irascible and stirred as she had ever seen him. ‘Was your Al, teflon-hearted scumbag.’

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Twins by Chris Gregory

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November 1997, no. 196

Incorporating photographs, diagrams, idiosyncratic typography, and even a list of references, Chris Gregory’s Twins is a media kit as much as a short story collection. It beings with a kind of parable about reading:

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