John Hanrahan

Where women lead, men generally have the sense to follow. Eventually. Feminist fiction, lesbian fiction have developed ahead of gay fiction in Australia. This is one of the many ideas acknowledged or explored in Dennis Altman’s welcome addition to literature about homosexual relationships.

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Madness by Morris Lurie

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July 1991, no. 132

We meet Tannenbaum in his ‘cosy Anne Frankish semi-hidden nook’. These writerly Jewish recluses have very little else in common; Tannenbaum is separated from his wife and two children. His friend/lover Anise is trying to drink her way out of a nervous breakdown. For further solace he resorts to ‘horizontal unravelling’ or ‘psychiatric horizontality’.

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Now we are in the season of missed and mellow fruitfulness. The mellow fruitfulness belongs to the winners of literary awards and literary grants. The missed are those who are eternally short listed but never ascend the throne. Of course, some books shortlisted never have a chance of winning. They are put there for encouragement, minor recognition, sometimes tokenism.

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Melbourne has Moomba and Melbourne Cup week. Sydney and Perth have cultural festivals. And so, pre-eminently, does Adelaide. Even from the backblocks of Melbourne, Adelaide Writers’ Week stirs up a real thrill.

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My first contact with Arthur Phillips was through a note signed A.A.P., attached to a short story that an editor couldn’t find space for. The note pointed out that the story lacked reality, e.g. a child was allowed to sit in a hotel bar. When I finally got to meet A.A. Phillips, it was over a drink. The pleasure at meeting was enhanced by a child at the next table. I ribbed Arthur about this, telling him that he had sinned against the commandments of social realism. He allowed me my small victory (the story is still unpublished) and then told a number of very funny stories against himself. I knew him only slightly, but that minimal acquaintanceship showed him to be as extraordinary and as delightful in his living as he was in his writing.

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The Oxford Companion to Australian Literature edited by William H. Wilde, Joy Hooton, and Barry Andrews

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December 1985–January 1986, no. 77

This is a splendid book, by far the most important of the recent OUP contributions to the study of Australian literature. Everything that you ever wanted to know about Australian Literature. Comprehensive (amazingly), consistently lively, up to date, as far as I can judge, accurate.

I have played the usual reviewers’ game for a book like this – trying to ...

This is The Great Tradition. Spade, Marlowe, Archer, Spenser. Peter Corris has relocated it, given it another place and another name and done it all with verve and flair. In ten adventures, Cliff Hardy lurches around Sydney in the rusty armour of his Falcon (except on one occasion when he goes to his spiritual home, California). While Corris does not achieve as much in the short stories as he does in the novels (but then that is true of Hammett), he does present Cliff Hardy as alive (miraculously) and well (apart from batterings and hangovers) and doing good (if not entirely within the meaning of the act).

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Thomas Shapcott uses as a basis for his novel the fascinating life story of Karoly Pulszky, who left Hungary as the disgraced Director of the National Gallery of Art and who committed suicide after two months in Queensland. Pulszky, a forceful and flamboyant man, followed in the footsteps of his distinguished father in building up Hungary’s art collection. He was married to Emilia Markus, ‘The Blonde Wonder of Budapest, the Greatest Actress in Hungary’. Financial mismanagement enabled his family’s political enemies to bring him down and he left Hungary in shame. Years after his death, one of his two daughters, Romola, married Nijinsky, and she wrote extensively about her own colourful life. Shapcott draws on her writings with considerable skill.

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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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Do you know the meaning of (or do you use?) ‘white leghorn day’, ‘five finger discount’, ‘beating the gun with an APC’? When a woman ‘chucks a bridge’ what is she doing? Have you come across ‘scarce as rocking-horse shit’, or ‘easy as pee-the-bed-awake’ or ‘tight as a fish’s bum and that’s watertight’ or ‘The streets are full of sailors and not a whore in the house has been washed’? These expressions and plenty more are discussed in Nancy Keesing’s Lily on the Dustbin. Slang of Australian women and families.

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