Laurie Clancy

This collection of twelve stories by the author of The Savage Crows and A Cry in the Jungle Bar seeks to explore and define what Drewe sees as a part of our national psyche, the preoccupation with the coast and with the ‘careless violent hedonism’, as one of the characters puts it, of beach life. In ‘Looking for Malibu’, David Lang, who appears in several of the stories, defines it for a then fellow expatriate in a discussion about criminals on the run. ‘If their enemies were middle-class Australians they’d know where to look for them,’ he says. ‘You know something? When Australians run away they always run to the coast. They can’t help it. An American vanishes, he could be living in New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, the mountains, the desert, anywhere. Not an Australian-he goes up the coast or down the coast and thinks he’s vanished without a trace.’

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Henry Handel Richardson: The letters edited by Clive Probyn and Bruce Steele

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October 2000, no. 225

The status of Henry Handel Richardson as a writer in Australia has always been somewhat problematic. Some people put that down to the fact that she was an expatriate. Leaving Australia at the age of eighteen, she returned only once, very briefly, in 1912. Expatriates, however, have often been paranoid about their reputation in this country and inclined to imagine that the Australian public is punishing them for leaving whereas in most cases it is indifferent to or even ignorant of that fact.

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Peter Pierce’s concern in this critical study is with two periods – from the second half of the nineteenth century, when most of the myths of the lost child began to appear, and the second half of this century, when a quite different kind of narrative emerges. The period in between he regards as largely a consolidation of the late nineteenth-century examples. Ranging widely over not only literature but pictorial art and contemporary factual accounts, he shows the striking changes that take place in the forms in which the legend appears.

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Gideon Haigh is turning into something of a one-man industry on cricket in Australia. Following highly successful books on the Packer revolution, Allan Border’s reign, and a recent defence of the Ashes, he has now turned his attention to the crucial years 1949 to 1971 when Australia went from being undisputed world champions to a side being overtaken, not merely by England but for the first time by South Africa, which would shortly be expelled because of its practice of apartheid, with the so-called Third World countries showing that they would not remain beaten for much longer. It opens, in other words, with Donald Bradman about to depart and ends with the ruthless sacking of Bill Lawry and the arrival of Ian Chappell as new captain.

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A River Town by Thomas Keneally

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May 1995, no. 170

The river town is Kempsey on the north coast of New South Wales, 300 miles from Sydney. It is the new year and, we soon learn, just around the turn of the century, immediately before Federation. Once more Keneally has plundered Australian history in order to explore his concern with Australian identity.

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About Tilly Beamis by Sumner Locke Elliott

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April 1986, no. 79

Expatriate Australian writer and now naturalised American citizen Sumner Locke Elliott seems to have written this novel to dramatise his own sense of cultural displacement and identity. Cutting back and forth in time (between 1978 and 1950) and place (Australia and the United States), it traces the attempt of a woman named Tanya van Zandt in New York to retrace the whereabouts and identity of an Australian, Tilly Beamis, who turns out to be (it does not take the alert reader long to recognise) her actual former self.

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It is astonishing how many major works of Australian fiction – and often major works in themselves – are out of print at any given time. Angus and Robertson and Penguin, occasionally assisted by smaller firms like the specialist feminist press Virago and the university presses, have done fine work in drawing attention to novels and writers undeservedly out of print. One writer who seemed out of fashion for a time but whom Penguin are systematically bringing back into print is Martin Boyd. The latest is their series of reissues of his work is a relatively little known and lightweight novel with the misleadingly enticing title of Nuns in Jeopardy (first published in 1940).

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The opening word of this collection of stylish essays in autobiography by David Malouf is ‘memory’; it is a word that recurs regularly throughout the text and a faculty that is central to most of Malouf’s work. Malouf is a writer perpetually in exile, forever dispossessed and these essays, like most of his fiction, are an attempt to recapture and retain a sense of the past; they repeat and reformulate themes that run through his creative writing. In particular, his most recent book, the collection of short stories Antipodes, can be seen to throw a good deal of light on this memoir. The author’s intimate relationship with his grandfather rather than his parents, the tension between the Old World and the New, the powers of language and narrative and the relationship between art and experience, the notion of, as one character puts it, ‘pushing ourselves to the limits of our young courage in outrageous dares’, and finally the paradoxically nostalgic rejection of the Brisbane of his boyhood to which he returns so often in his fiction – all these themes recur from the previous book and are elaborated on.

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The Morality of Gentlemen by Amanda Lohrey & This Freedom by John Morrison

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December 1985–January 1986, no. 77

This fine first novel by a thirty-six-year-old Tasmanian woman was first published in 1984, but to the best of my knowledge has received only one review. Certainly, ABR missed it, and I would not have read it had it not been entered in the Vance and Nettie Palmer Victorian State Government awards for fiction. Had I been able to persuade my fellow judges of its merit, it would certainly have made the shortlist. Lohrey’s talent as a writer has finally been acknowledged in the latest issue of Scripsi, which prints an extract from the novel she is currently working on, as well as a substantial and thoughtful review by Anne Diamond.

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Apart from the theme of growth and adolescence (with which it often merges), perhaps the most common preoccupation of Australian novelists is the progress of a young man (usually) or woman towards artistic achievement and fulfilment. Frequently the field of art is pictorial. Patrick White’s The Vivisector, Thea Astley’s The Acolyte, Tony Morphett’s Thorskeld, and Barbara Hanrahan’s The Scent of Eucalyptus and Kewpie Doll, to name only those, all deal in some form or other with a painter of either actual or potential genius. It is, of course, one of the classic themes of twentieth-century fiction everywhere, but its pervasiveness among our writers suggests a self­conscious need to articulate the Australian experience and identity. Who better than the great artist to do it?

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