Professor Hassall’s study of Randolph Stow is indeed a strange country. A text which sets out to establish Stow as ‘a more important writer than is generally recognized’ and to show that his ‘best work bears comparison with Patrick White’s’ promises an intellectual engagement with either critics or the text or both which would lead to reassessment of Stow’s work. It appears that these are Aunt Sally’s – although Professor Leonie Kramer, who is presented as one of Stow’s ‘sterner “realist” critics’, can hardly be seen as such an aunt. Hassall puts her up but barely touches her, leaving the counterargument to Dorothy Green. Perhaps he’s being gentlemanly. However, to quote a paragraph from Green which asserts that ‘One of the greatest weaknesses of Australian criticism has always been its refusal to take religious ideas seriously’ is to take advantage of the lady. Hassall needs to fight his own battle against Leonie Kramer’s judgement of Stow’s work as being ‘quasi-religious’ and misguidedly experimental.
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.
Randolph Stow’s latest novel, The Suburbs of Hell, may be read as a simple whodunit: a simple allegorical Whodunit. Like Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, like David Lodge’s Small World, this novel sets out to intrigue the reader. The new genre, nouvelle critique, teases the reader’s vanity, the reader’s erudition at the same time as it engages with questions of a metaphysical kind – the nature of truth, reality, and for those concerned with literature – the purpose of writing today.
If Australia during the last century was ‘no place for a nervous lady’, this collection of women’s writings edited by Lucy Frost establishes with simple eloquence that it certainly was no place for a nervous gentleman.