When Claude Monet lived in Argenteuil in the 1870s, he famously worked in a studio-boat on the Seine. He painted the river, he painted bridges over the river, he painted snow, the sky, his children and his wife, and, famously, a field of red poppies with a large country house in the background. Argenteuil is to Paris roughly what Heidelberg and Templestowe are to Melbourne. Once a riparian haven for plein air painters interested in capturing the transient optics of natural phenomena, it is now a suburban interface with a diminishing habitat for anything but humans.
Actually, Heidelberg and Templestowe are in good shape when compared to Monet’s old river haunt. When he was living in Argenteuil, the population was fewer than 10,000 people, most of whom were asparagus farmers, vintners, fishermen, and craftspeople. Now the suburb is home to more than 100,000, many of whom are commuters making the train trip into Paris every day to work. The only shimmering light of interest would probably come from their phones.
In one of the reflective essays that complement her new collection of stories, My Hearts Are Your Hearts, Carmel Bird likens short story writing to the art of the conjuror who takes ‘coloured silk handkerchiefs, pull[s] them all in to make a ball, and then, with a flourish, open[s] them up as a full-blown rose’. This charming me ...
At some stage in every workshop on the art of memoir somebody raises the question of ethics, of privacy, and of who has the right to tell a version of a story. How far, the author of Reaching One Thousand asks, is she prepared to ‘sacrifice other people’s privacy’? What betrayals will she ‘perpetrate on others’?
A book’s epigraph doesn’t often feel like a direct personal statement to the reader, but the one in Thought Crimes, drawn from Ionesco, is just that: ‘You got stuck in the mud of life. You felt warm and cosy. (Sharply) Now you’re going to freeze.’ Imagine the world as a jigsaw from which the author has removed some pieces, substituting them with his own pieces – but which ones are they?
Stories of the impact of European discovery, exploration, invasion, and settlement on Australia are naturally a source of fascination to novelists. The microcosm of the island of Tasmania, with its cruel yet beautiful landscape and its unforgiving weather, offers these stories with a special kind of eerie horror. Against this setting, the stories emerge both in concert and in counterpoint, desc ...
World War I is lodged in the minds of Australians with mythic power. Chris Womersley, in plain and startling yet tender and lyrical prose, has constructed a moving narrative that opens up the wounds of war, laying bare the events that pre-date the conflict and reach forward into the collective memory. I was reminded of A.S. Byatt’s recent novel The Children’s Book (2009), which also foregrounds in poetic language the Great War and etches forever the horror of broken bodies and minds on the consciousness of its readers.
While Australian women in particular have been avid diarists and letter-writers, the activity du jour is overwhelmingly the writing of memoir, inspired by the notion that everyone’s life is memorable and worth recording. Some memoirists are searching for the truth of their lives, to recover the past or perhaps recover from it. Some are simply recording their story for family consumption. Others, the more ambitious, are seeking publication and fame. Carmel Bird’s advice to them – ‘Stay young. Stay Beautiful. And maybe climb Everest with your eyes shut’ – is the only pessimistic comment in this whole book.
‘I’d spent my childhood and adolescence on this sandy moonscape. I was sure I had something to say about it. I just didn’t know what.’ The book is Robert Drewe’s response to that thought. It is, as he says, a portrait of a place and time. The place is Perth; the time the fifties; the portrait is so very sharp, atmospheric, brutal, and deeply moving. There is a strange and haunting sweetness in the voice of the narrator, a clean, wondering charm. The subtitle of the book is ‘memories and murder’ and, like ghastly mutilations discovered outside the shark net, the murders and other horrible deaths drift before our startled eyes.