John McLaren

Like every one of his previous novels, Patrick White’s latest work is both utterly characteristic and completely unpredictable. With the third line, we know we are in for another of White’s dissections of human behavior. ‘“Bit rough, isn’t it?” her chauffeur ventured.’ The verb almost parodies White’s careful placing of human acts any other writer would – perhaps rightly – consider insignificant. It is also characteristic of his more recent novels that the first people we meet are peripheral, people who serve both to comment on the action and to offer a commentary just by their presence. They are the reverse of the chorus of a Greek tragedy in that they are the problem to which the central characters address themselves rather than the passive victims of this address.

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Just Relations by Rodney Hall & North Wind by John Morrison

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August 1982, no. 43

These two works of fiction at first seem to offer only a contrast in literary style and method. John Morrison’s book is a collection of stories ranging from the title story, published in his first collection, Sailors Belong Ships (1947), to four not previously published in book form ...

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John McLaren, who died peacefully in St Vincent's Private Hospital on 4 December 2015, was a man of many fine attributes and talents, not the least of which was his capacity for friendship. John had many close friends towards whom he showed great loyalty, affection, and generosity. They, in their turn, recognised the strength and quality of the quite precious bond h ...

In one sense, the publisher’s blurb on this novel says it all.

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John Docker

Mark Davis’ Voltairean Gangland is one of those rare books that prise open a space for revaluation of the direction of a culture. Like The Dunciad’s evocation of the Grub Street hacks of its time, Gangland exposes tentacular networks of chummy patronage, mutual puffery, and cultural power. Gangland is especially enjoyable on the clown-like behaviour of the ex-Scripsi diaspora – in a curious sexual division of labour, a B-team of male critics, captained by the felicitously named P. Craven, has successfully promoted a coterie of writers like Jolley, Garner, and Modjeska. Compared to those I analyse in Australian Cultural Elites (1974) and In A Critical Condition (1984), this new élite is the most intellectually thin in Australian cultural history. Assisted by a passive, grovelling middle-class readership, it both creates such writers as canonical and then tries desperately to shield their texts from critique and challenge.

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Wolves and goats. The goats represent the ego. They control time, represent culture, continuity, the status quo. They live in the grandfather clock that is at once history and the records of the psychoanalyst. The wolves are the id, the unconscious, desire. They are also reason, and they triumph over time. The Wolf-Man led Freud to his understanding of the war of the id on the ego. Freud identified as neurotics those who, unable to live with the war, regress to the instinctive, the primitive, the animal.

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The everlasting dance of sounds and feelings and colours, the taste and scent of life, comes to us in its most explicit form in words. Even when Proust’s famous Madeleine led him back through its scents and associations in search of a time that was lost, he followed its tracks through words that brought back the images of the past and tied them down into clear grammatical patterns of form and relationship. Because language teaches us how to think and feel and see it is always political. The speaker and the writer impose on us patterns which either reinforce or subvert established power. It is no accident that a failed conservative businessman and politician has been able to recover his fortunes by writing a political thriller, or that Mrs Thatcher has now engaged him on the task of selling her politics of destruction to a wary electorate. The words create the reality.

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Dhvanyaloka, the Literary Criterion Centre at Mysore, derives its names from a classic Indian work of literary criticism and, by way of Cambridge, from T.S. Eliot’s journal of the 1920s. The Indian work saw literature as a spreading of the light, Eliot saw it as the maintenance and renewal of tradition. Mysore, Professor C.D. Narasimhaiah applies these two principles to the study of Commonwealth literature.

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Overland 100 edited by Stephen Murray-Smith

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December 1985–January 1986, no. 77

Perth, like Sydney, is a city of water, but the water on display is safely enclosed in the reaches of the Swan. Here ferries and commuting speedboats plough their straight lines among flocks of red or blue sailed dinghies sailing and tacking in sudden turns like flocks of tropical fish. In Fremantle, sailors’ missions and clubs straggle around the side streets, and the mall on a Saturday afternoon is left to drunks and kids on BMX bikes. In the Book Market casual browsers can look through the latest publications from Australia and abroad, or climb upstairs to find a collection of raw socialist writings dedicated to Pat Troy, ‘one of Australia’s finest working class fighters’.

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Paul Radley’s novels are about loss and growth. The first, the prize-winning Jack Rivers and Me, showed how ‘Peanut’ was forced to shed his imaginary companion as a part of his joining the world of school. My Blue-Checker Corker and Me dealt with a twelve-year-old boy’s reaction to grief at the loss of his racing pigeon. Now, in his latest, he takes us through five years in the lives of two mates from just before they leave school until one of them dies in the mud of New Guinea. The setting of the novel is again his fictitious township of Boomeroo, but the time is now the late thirties and first years of the war.

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