Peter Goldsworthy

Someone once described Clive James as ‘a great bunch of guys’, a joke worthy of James himself, although he is probably tired of hearing it. Some of those guys – the television comedian and commentator, the best-selling memoirist – are better known than others, and there’s little doubt that their fame has obscured the achievement of two of the quieter guys in the bunch.

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Peter Goldsworthy, doctor and poet, is a writer of significant style and concision. This new selection of his lyric poetry lives up to its jaunty, graffitied, lavender cover; it bespeaks lightness. And lightness is damned hard work. You don’t get there just by smiling and going to book launches ...

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The composer Richard Mills and the poet and novelist Peter Goldsworthy have renewed their collaboration to produce an opera based on the Wreck of the Batavia (Previously, the pair adapted Ray Lawler’s Summer of the Seventeenth Doll for the opera stage.) The new work will be premiered at the Melbourne State Theatre on May 11, in an Opera Australia production. It depicts the notorious events that followed the famous shipwreck off the coast of Western Australia in 1629.

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An immense irony: Noam Chomsky, one of the left-culture heroes of the 1960s and 1970s –one of mine, at any rate – was in fact all along engaged in a white-anting of the sacred central tenet that unites leftish beliefs, the notion we are products (constructs is the more fashionable term) of our culture. And its optimistic sequel: we can therefore be changed, or improved. Gender roles are supposedly a construct, IQs are supposedly a construct, the fact that all sprint finalists in the Olympics are black-skinned is even supposed to be a cultural construct.

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I am enmeshed in criticism. Criticism defines and speaks me. I criticise, therefore I have a job. But criticism is a tricky business. It’s partial, changes from one time/place/person to another (as Jennifer Gribble acknowledges).

I’m not an expert on Janet Frame or Christina Stead (although I’ve included books by each on courses in the past) and my awareness of Peter Goldsworthy’s oeuvre is better but patchy. Like most university lecturers (I suppose), I read more reviews than actual books, although my preference is for the reverse. But with the vision of ABR’s editor as the bejewelled ringmistress conjured up in Gina Mercer’s book, I don my cap and bells, cry ‘Nuncle!’, and off I go into the hurricane.

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This is the finale to ‘The Death of Daffy Duck’, one of the stories in Peter Goldsworthy’s latest collection. ‘The Death of Daffy Duck’ outlines the end of a friendship between two bon vivant couples whose years of dining out together had come to an end in a restaurant, during dinner, when one of the men almost choked to death on a piece of food (the ‘Scene’ referred to), and the other saved his life. From that time on, the saved man will not speak to his rescuing friend.

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Catherine Kenneally: The first thing that strikes me is that there are now two books in a row with Christian symbols on the cover.

Peter Goldsworthy: Yes, well I didn’t have much say in the cover of that one. They showed it to me. Interestingly there was the novel, Honk if You Are Jesus and then a novella called Jesus Wants Me For a Sunbeam – probably more interesting to me because that’s my own work. I’m not sure what that means. Maybe that’s the mythical 1960s generation getting into middle age and starting to worry about death and the afterlife and all that stuff.

I’ve always been fascinated by those almost banal adolescent questions, why is there something rather than nothing. I’ve never fully outgrown them, and maybe you shouldn’t outgrow them. It is the basic question, why are we here?, and all those whys that continue to fascinate me.

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Would it surprise you to know that a number of our well-known writers write to please themselves? Probably not. If there’s no pleasure, or challenge, or stimulus, the outcome would probably not be worth the effort. If this effort is writing, it seems especially unlikely that someone would engage in the activity without enjoying the chance to be their own audience.

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Maestro by Peter Goldsworthy

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November 1989, no. 116

The current literary enterprise of this country is greatly indebted to Peter Goldsworthy. Yet his name is not one of those that trip off the reflex tongues of journalists, and not only journalists. He has only recently started to appear in the anthologies. He is granted all of two lines in Ken Gelder and Paul Salzman’s jerky traverse of our recent fiction. Yet his accomplishment in a diversity of genres is unique.

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Bleak Rooms by Peter Goldsworthy

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May 1988, no. 100

Peter Goldsworthy uses the short story to examine and question elements of the kind of life he leads. There is an attractive lack of pretence in his kind of story; Goldsworthy sketches social situations clearly and succinctly so that he can move on to probe the weaknesses in his characters’ otherwise complacent lives. As the back cover tells us, and the stories reveal, Goldsworthy is a medical practitioner in Adelaide and his fiction is in a tradition which begins with social experience and reflection on it.

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