Delia Falconer

Reading Richard Flanagan’s searing allegory The Living Sea of Waking Dreams (2020) and Delia Falconer’s new non-fiction book, Signs and Wonders: Dispatches from a time of beauty and loss, in rapid succession was a surreal, slightly unmooring experience. Both authors lucidly capture the dreamlike state of disbelief and horrified fury with which we’ve watched the world slide terribly into the 2020s. Both are part of an outpouring of new language, new stories, new ways of expressing our reactions to the barely imaginable scale of realities we can no longer ignore: fire columns that remind NASA of dragons; a pandemic that conjures news scenes we had thought the province of cinema. As our poor human cognition struggles to catch up, scientists become poets, novelists become scientists.

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Killing Sydney by Elizabeth Farrelly & Sydney (Second Edition) by Delia Falconer

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March 2021, no. 429

Poor old Sydney. If it isn’t being described as crass and culturally superficial, it’s being condemned for allowing developers to obliterate whatever natural beauty it ever had. Is it doomed, will it survive, and if so, what kind of city is it likely to be?

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What this is not, as Kim Williams is quick to tell us (introduction, paragraph two), is a dog-bites-Murdoch account of that nasty business in August 2013 that saw Williams summarily ousted as chief executive of News Corp Australia. Other disgruntled former Ruprechtian courtiers such as former editor-in-chief of The Herald Sun Bruce Guthrie, who sought and won legal redress and indeed wrote an account of his experiences (actually called Man Bites Murdoch), have told their stories, and told them well. But this is not the path of the enigmatic and enlightened Kim. Instead, as he says, this is a book about ‘one of the most precious things in life that drives most of us … our passions’.

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When Mark Henshaw’s début, Out of the Line of Fire, appeared in 1988, it was, as literary editor Stephen Romei states in his introduction to the recent Text Classics reissue, the ‘literary sensation of the year’. A novel about an Australian author’s difficulties in writing about his fugitive subject, the young German philosopher Wolfi, it was very much a book of its moment, when a joyous postmodernism gripped Australian letters. In 1984 the country had hosted its first conference on the topic, with Jean Baudrillard and Paul Virilio, the rock stars of French theory; and by 1988 any serious young insect – myself included – was reading Jorge Luis Borges’s labyrinthine stories, Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and Italo Calvino’s experimental novel, If on a winter’s night a traveler. That same year Helen Daniel would publish her dense but hugely influential Liars, celebrating our novelists as purveyors of an Australian history (borrowing Mark Twain’s term) made up of ‘beautiful lies’. Henshaw’s novel also carries something of the crackling energy of our bicentenary when our literature was shedding a realism associated with colonialism while announcing a stake in international (often, but not always, European) intellectual traditions.

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Sydney by Delia Falconer

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November 2010, no. 326

Delia Falconer’s Sydney, the third in a series from NewSouth in which leading Australian authors write about their hometowns, is like its harbour, brimful with tones, vivid with contemplation ...

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Living life in only one dimension, without having another world or set of characters to visit, doesn’t seem enough. I’m always happier when I’m writing, and not so easy to live with when I’m not.

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It is eight years since Delia Falconer published her successful début novel, The Service of Clouds. Eight years is a long time. It took James Joyce eight years to write Ulysses (1922). Eight years is one year longer than Joseph Heller laboured over Catch-22 (1961) and about six years longer than it took George Eliot to knock out Middlemarch (1871-72).

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Moral Hazard by Kate Jennings & Judgement Rock by Joanna Murray-Smith

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May 2002, no. 241

From at least the mid-1980s, it has been almost obligatory for Australian reviewers to bemoan the dearth of contemporary political novels in this country. In some ways, this is a predictable backlash against the flowering of postmodern fabulist novels of ‘beautiful lies’ (by such writers as Peter Carey, Elizabeth Jolley, and Brian Castro) in the past two decades ...

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The Tree by Deborah Ratliff

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October 2001, no. 235

American English, with its vigorous ability to get to the core of things, has an implacably visual word for the kind of person this novel is about – the ‘shut-in’. A shut-in is a recluse, perhaps a cinéaste or stay-at-home opera queen. He (I use my pronouns advisedly – the shut-in is usually a ‘he’) has a rich, century-long genealogy in books and on-screen, from Huysmans’s Des Esseintes and Wilde’s Dorian Gray to Sunset Boulevard’s Nora Desmond and Chatwin’s Utz. Alfred Hitchcock specialised in shut-ins; in Australian cinema, Norman Kaye played a lonely voyeur in Man of Flowers. The shut-in has also given birth to a critical tradition of his own. Some critics like Walter Benjamin have suggested that the habit of collecting may be a response to the twentieth century itself, a kind of specialised aesthetic reflex against consumer culture. Because he is associated with brittleness and the arts, the shut-in is frequently depicted as gay or as a sexual neurasthenic: in his wonderful book The Queen’s Throat, Wayne Koestenbaum has made a bravura anatomisation of the coded campness of the shut-in opera fan.

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 A friend describes the sensation as being in the movie set of your own life: everything is familiar, but not quite right. Auckland feels like an Australian city that has simply slipped a little, like the accent, to the east. There are hints of Hobart in the crisp sea and the misty sketched-in headlands. And of Sydney, in the over-abundance of harbour, the narrow streets of Ponsonby, which drop away towards the water, the houses filled with quiet light. Perhaps all Pacific cities look pretty much the same these days: here is the casino, the observation tower, the thirties picture palace turned into a Singapore-style mall, the narrow lane with outdoor tables under braziers; the same stands of Westpacs and McDonalds and Lush cosmetics stores. Perhaps what differentiates one city from another now is the sheer volume of traffic forced through its streets.

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