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Hugh Atkinson

‘If you can’t say something nice,’ my mother always said, ‘don’t say anything at all.’ (I pinch this opening gambit, shamelessly, from Kate Grenville’s Self-Portrait in the last ABR, and hope she does not mind; imitation is the sincerest form etc.) Apropos of parental expectations regarding niceness-or-silence, however, I am reminded of a remark of Elizabeth Jolley’s: ‘I think my mother wanted a princess, and she got me instead.’

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‘Even when there’s simultaneity,’ as one of Michael Wilding’s characters says, there’s still linearity that needs to be found, and linearity is difficult to find in this group of books. So, it is better, as Wilding’s book also suggests, to let the books perform and then see the pattern they make. Pacific Highway, in fact, is a kind of haiku novel, which coheres into a single expressive emblem, the emblem of the dance its narrator offers us at the end.

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