Macmillan

With the publication of Rodney Hall’s latest novel, The Grisly Wife, the author has brought to completion a trilogy that first began appearing in 1988. Since this last published novel is actually the middle work of the trilogy and what were formerly two separate novels are now bridged by this newcomer, we are finally given the opportunity to assess if and how the parts relate to the whole.

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Grand Days by Frank Moorhouse

by
November 1993, no. 156

Grand Days is volume one of Frank Moorhouse’s Palais des Nations novels, and is connected to the author’s previous works Forty-Seventeen and The Electrical Experience by the characters of Edith Campbell Berry and George McDowell. The principal narrative of Grand Days goes on for 500 or so pages, and is followed by some thirty pages of notes and explanations which form another narrative. The most interesting narrative of all, to me, however, is the story of where this book fits into the life and work of Frank Moorhouse.

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What would you like to know? Doc Evatt’s on-the-­spot explanation of why he wrote to Molotov? Archbishop Mannix’s response to Cardinal Spellman’s claim on the papacy? The particular pleasure derived from small boys by the headmaster of Geelong Grammar Junior School? How a knowledge of Urdu maintained the Hands off Indonesia blockade? What Malcolm Ellis said to Charles Currey when the lift opened? All those delights and more tumble out of Russel Ward’s autobiography.

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Narrative history, the sort that tells a story starting at one point in time and ending at a later point, is now out of favour. Some write sociological history focused on class, gender, race, or the family. Others prefer the slice approach concentrating in depth on specific years, or the semiotic spatial history of Paul Carter’s The Road to Botany Bay. Before all else there must be a Theory.

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As Meena Blesing explained in an interview on Sixty Minutes, writing an autobiographical account of her life during the Combe-Ivanov Royal Commission was something she needed to do. Writing the book allowed her to discuss the events of 1983 and their consequences in a way that gave expression to and ordered her anger. For the reader, Blesing’s very personal story provides a perspective on the Combe Affair which has not been canvassed in the other published material: media reports, the Hope Report, David Marr’s The Ivanov Trail. That the book concludes on a note of somewhat ironic hope is but one indication of the emotional complexity of the material story, she covers. For, in telling her own story, Blesing also presents us with what can be read as a rare discussion of the impact on private, family life of state actions and policies.

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With Dryden out of favour and Rochester still only a cult enthusiasm, ‘Restoration literature’ is likely to evoke for most readers only stage comedy, yet likely to seem to a casual reader to promise only scholarly drudgery in justly neglected corners, crowned by an inadequate, hurried examination of a major work, Samson Agonistes, looking sadly astray in this company.

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Ah, unblissful ignorance. Having recently travelled through part of the Eyre Peninsula, I wish that I had known more about Edward John Eyre, English explorer and administrator.

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Some years ago a perky little tune used to introduce Jong Amis’s programme, Talking About Music. Stravinsky, I thought, listening to the cupped trumpets. But no, the BBC had chosen a piece, by our very own Percy Grainger. Surprise number two occurred when it was announced a few years later that Benjamin Britten himself was conducting an all-Grainger programme in London’s Festival Hall. Could this be the same Percy Grainger, he of the museum built like a public lavatory, said to contain photographs of all the great composers specially endowed with Nordic blue eyes? It was. Never was the point more forcefully made than when Philip Jones, performing with his Brass Ensemble in Melbourne in 1982, stepped forward on the platform of the Concert Hall to ask, with an English solicitude for the proprieties, for permission to play a piece by Grainger to honour the centenary day of the composer’s birth. The audience was a little puzzled.

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Despite its faults, this book has the merit of being the first biography on the legendary Australian batsman, Victor Trumper (1877–1915). Young cricket lovers of today may well ask what feats of batsmanship Trumper performed to deserve this handsomely produced volume about him. After all, his test average was only 39.04, not to be spoken of in the same breath as Don Bradman’s 99.96.

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Kathleen Fitzpatrick wanted to be an actress. Instead, she became a famous lecturer and teacher in the History Department at the University of Melbourne, and in one of the frequent revealing asides in her memoir implies that perhaps this fact explained her ability as an inspiring lecturer.

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