Penguin

From the enlightenment to post-modernity, there has been one common rallying cry: ‘This is the age of criticism.’ Religious authority, natural rights and philosophical dogmatism have all been under critique for so long that criticism has almost come to seem natural, authoritative and is in danger of hardening into dogma. Little surprise, then, that outside the academy the word ‘criticism’ is seldom linked with the venerable discourse of theology, politics and philosophy but rather with a comparatively recent and fluid phenomenon: Literature.

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The autobiographer faces a real problem: the self. ‘Which self?’ may also be the reader’s question and it may also be the question of the autobiographer. Should one write about the known self, the self vaunted or scorned by others, the public one, parts of which can be found in archives, on record, in the books and conversations of friends and enemies? Or should it be the private self, the self-protected and defended by jokes, chiack and taciturnity, hinted at here or there, but never accepted as real when defined by others?

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Yacker by Candida Baker & Rooms of Their Own by Jennifer Ellison

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July 1986, no. 82

Why do we like interviews so much? There must be a reason. Maybe it’s the lure – too often, alas, as in lurid – of confession: the ‘X Reveals All’ syndrome that deceives the mind into thinking it has always wanted to know what it is (finally) about to be told; or the more elevated sense of privilege and honour felt by those in whom such truths are confided.

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Transgressions edited by Don Anderson & The Australian Short Story by Laurie Hergenhan

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May 1986, no. 80

I have a theory that every second Australian is a closet short story writer. And this is a conservative estimate. According to my theory, the so-called ‘booms’ in the history of the Australian short story in the 1890s and 1950s merely reflected fashions in the book and magazine publishing businesses, not the relentless scratching away in exercise books or thumping of battered typewriters which occupies the waking hours of the determined taleteller and which is, I am convinced, a more popular national pastime than dodging income tax. How else to explain the sheer volume of short stories being published? And these are but the tip of the iceberg – a mere fraction of those that have been and are being written.

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It is astonishing how many major works of Australian fiction – and often major works in themselves – are out of print at any given time. Angus and Robertson and Penguin, occasionally assisted by smaller firms like the specialist feminist press Virago and the university presses, have done fine work in drawing attention to novels and writers undeservedly out of print. One writer who seemed out of fashion for a time but whom Penguin are systematically bringing back into print is Martin Boyd. The latest is their series of reissues of his work is a relatively little known and lightweight novel with the misleadingly enticing title of Nuns in Jeopardy (first published in 1940).

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Ikons by George Papaellinas

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February–March 1986, no. 78

On the stage or off, Peter Mavromatis is the unswerving centre of these stories. Unswerving as a focus, that is – in himself he swerves all over the place. Who and what is Peter Mavromatis? That’s what he’d like to know. His Cypriot parents and grandmother know who he should be. Sydney-born, he has grown up saddled with Greekness as a birthright and an unpayable debt. Peter Blackaeye: is he ‘Grik’? No, the Greeks at GMH decide, and drive him off the job. Australian? Not to his family, nor to many Australians.

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The Morality of Gentlemen by Amanda Lohrey & This Freedom by John Morrison

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December 1985–January 1986, no. 77

This fine first novel by a thirty-six-year-old Tasmanian woman was first published in 1984, but to the best of my knowledge has received only one review. Certainly, ABR missed it, and I would not have read it had it not been entered in the Vance and Nettie Palmer Victorian State Government awards for fiction. Had I been able to persuade my fellow judges of its merit, it would certainly have made the shortlist. Lohrey’s talent as a writer has finally been acknowledged in the latest issue of Scripsi, which prints an extract from the novel she is currently working on, as well as a substantial and thoughtful review by Anne Diamond.

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John Bryson has tried to solve one of Australia’s great mysteries – how Azaria Chamberlain died. The cover of Evil Angels gives the clue to his answer. A bruise-coloured sky glowers over a stark, orange-brown desert. There is the twisted relic of a tree in the foreground and in front of it, like a spreading puddle of blood, the shadow of a dingo, its eyes on an evil slant.

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Double Time: Women in Victoria – 150 Years edited by Marilyn Lake and Farley Kelly

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May 1985, no. 70

The first idea I remember having about the past as history was that people were more brutish then and more unjust because they were more ignorant. History was progress. This was the enlightened age.

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Serpent’s Tooth is a massive, sprawling novel. It is panoramic in its vision of twentieth century social and political history, and meticulous in its rendering of one man’s struggle to sustain the mighty ideal his father has inspired in him.

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