Hodder & Stoughton

Henry Hitchings has written a number of well-received books on aspects of the English language, including Dr Johnson’s Dictionary: The Extraordinary Story of the Book That Defined the World (2005) and The Secret Life of Words: How English Became English (2008), which focuses on the numerous borrowings that English has made from other languages.

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It was the first game for the season in some halcyon year of my cricketing past. We’d scraped together a team, but the other mob was rumoured to be a couple short. Their first three batsmen were competent enough and made a few. Then a collapse brought number eight to the wicket. Impeccably clad, he was one of those blokes who puts his gloves on after taking guard and then spends minutes surveying the field, pointing to each position with his bat, as if burning them into his tactical memory. At last he faced his first ball, which went straight through him and took the middle and off stumps out of the ground. ‘Bad luck, mate,’ said one of our blokes, with a kindness the ensuing months would erode. ‘First knock for the season, eh?’ The beautifully attired number eight looked at him in astonishment. ‘First knock ever,’ he said.

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Confessing the Blues by Anson Cameron & Saigon Tea by Graham Reilly

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December 2002-January 2003, no. 247

Comedy, Angela Carter once quipped, is tragedy that happens to other people. Laughter is both an expression of our hard-bitten knowledge of the random cruelty of a universe that stubbornly resists our attempts to control it and an act of defiance in the face of that cruelty. Or, to put it in simpler terms, if you didn’t laugh, you’d cry.

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Virtual Murdoch by Neil Chenoweth & Working for Rupert by Hugh Lunn

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August 2001, no. 233

In the last week of June, after a period in the doldrums, the News Corporation share price suddenly took wing again. Buyers piled in. A lazy few hundred million dollars were added to the company’s value. The basis of the revaluation? Apparently, Rupert Murdoch himself had descended from Olympus to participate in a presentation to sharebrokers in Sydney. Enraptured at this visitation, analysts had upped their profit projections for News.

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Sandra Holmes’s Yirawala: Painter of the Dreaming is not a picture book or a ‘pretty story’. It does not tell balanda (white people) what they want to hear, nor does it euphemise the truth. The book is an inspiring, if harrowing account of Yirawala’s life and death, his religion manifest as art, and his struggle with balanda officialdom to regain title to his Dreaming country, Marugulidban.

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Tom Keneally used to be a fashionable writer, but not anymore, at least not with the critics, though readers continue to read him. Critical concern today is with aesthetics rather than ethics, theory rather than practice. Towards Asmara is therefore not likely to get a great deal of serious attention. This is a pity because it raises some weighty issues, and the loss is the critics’!

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Thomas Keneally’s A Family Madness attempts to get the reader in touch with life beyond the headline and the common enough family madness which irrupts the security we call home, sweet home. While each family may be unhappy in its own way, only some hit the screen or the front page, splattering their sorrow onto family breakfasts, lunches, dinners.

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Thomas Keneally excels in stories of guilt. Schindler’s Ark joins Bring Larks and Heroes and The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith as his best work so far. Organised and complacent cruelty to convicts, to blacks, to Jews grabs Keneally’s imagination to produce his most powerful novels. On one level, Schindler’s Ark is the story of a man who played the system to ensure the survival of his Jewish factory workers. On another level, it is their story, a compelling narrative of suffering and the will to survive. Fifty years after Hitler’s vaguely democratic marching to power, Keneally compels us to believe in the reality of the Holocaust. He writes of death, separation, and survival with the matter-of-fact authority of Kevin Heinz telling us how to mulch our petunias in a time of drought.

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