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Nicholas Hasluck

Girl in a Pink Dress by Kylie Needham & The Prize by Kim E. Anderson

June 2023, no. 454
Popular Western culture remains fascinated with the figure of the artist. This fascination is perhaps a more interesting object of study than the many depictions arising from it. The figure of the artist has been represented as predominantly masculine, replete with tics of grandiosity, addiction, and suffering. Cheesy and/or technically inadequate depictions of artistic process often attend. Artists are too often presented as savant thunderbirds unable to do the washing, let alone hang it out. How can such figures hope to solve complex conceptual and material creative problems? Such tropes can seem indestructible, causing domino effects of plot to swirl with tedious predictability. ... (read more)

Nicholas Hasluck is that relatively rare combination of practising lawyer and accomplished writer. A former judge of the Supreme Court of Western Australia, he has also produced more than a dozen novels and as many works of non-fiction. This duality of roles is not unknown. Two contemporary examples that come to mind are Jonathan Sumption, who was on the UK Supreme Court and is a medieval historian, and Scott Turow, a Chicago attorney whose works include the trial novel Presumed Innocent (1988).

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In the wake of the spectacular collapse of Rothwells and unsavoury revelations about Western Australian entrepreneurial enterprise, it is very apposite for Penguin to have republished Nick Hasluck’s 1980 novel, The Blue Guitar. This novel, as relevant now as nine years ago, deals with the world of entrepreneurship with its illusory money, fast talk, and duplicity. It is a world of the corrupt and the corruptible, where principles and moral certainties give way before glib notions of innovative thinking and flexibility.

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Are you a regional writer?

I suppose I am, if your definition of a regional writer is someone who evokes atmosphere and themes which have a particular relevance for a region. Firstly, to take the most obvious thing there has always been a particular buccaneering business style, dating from the days of the goldrush of the 1890s and in various eras since, and the whole 1980s materialistic era was written even larger on the West Coast than other places. Going even further back in historical terms when you think of the peculiarities of the exploration of this coast, both by the French and the Dutch, that is something which distinguishes the West Coast. Because of my particular enthusiasm for history and research and canvassing matters of the early exploration, it is a theme which has found its way into three or four of my books.

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As Nicholas Hasluck’s latest novel points out more than once, the adversarial system of judgement upon which this country’s law is based consists of the telling and re-telling of stories. The prosecution presents a version of events, the defence uses the same facts but tells a different story and, in summing up, the judge constructs a third one. Finally the jury is empowered by society to decide the ‘truth’. Counsel for the prosecution and for the defence are obliged to argue their respective points of view to the limit of their professional ability. The most effective way of doing this, as one of Hasluck’s characters points out, involves ‘subverting rational argument – constantly interrupting, confusing witnesses with nit-picking questions, blocking the presentation of crucial facts, shaping the truth to suit his client’s case’.

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