Picador

Although you might not guess it from media comment, The Latham Diaries (MUP, $39.95 hb, 429 pp, 0522852157) is the most important book yet published on Labor’s wilderness years. It provides a pungent characterisation of Labor’s post-1996 history; conveys a profound understanding of the challenges facing a social democratic party in contemporary Australia ... 

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The Book Thief marks a departure for Markus Zusak. It is his first novel for adults, has broader concerns than his earlier work, and makes clearer his ambitions to be considered a serious writer. His first three novels, for young adults, were primarily focused on the masculinity of the boys in a working-class Sydney family ...

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Road Story by Julienne van Loon & Everyman’s Rules for Scientific Living by Carrie Tiffany

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September 2005, no. 274

The Vogel Prize shares a reputation with the rest of the company’s products: nutritious, worthy, a little dull. But the prize’s earnest image is unfair. Any glance at the roll-call of winners over the last twenty-five years would show that the makers of soggy bread and soya cereals have done more than anyone to introduce fresh literary DNA into Australia’s tiny gene pool of published novelists. But reviewers, mostly, and the public, generally, don’t get excited when the new Vogel is published. This year they should. Julienne van Loon’s desperate joyride, Road Story, is the best Vogel winner to come along since 1990, when Gillian Mears’s The Mint Lawn, equally confident but very different, won first place.

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The Singing by Stephanie Bishop & The Patron Saint Of Eels by Gregory Day

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August 2005, no. 273

The Singing is the inaugural publication in the Varuna Firsts series, a collaboration between the Varuna Writers’ House and Brandl & Schlesinger. Both should be applauded for bringing a distinctive new voice into Australian writing; not to mention the honour due to the prodigious talent of Stephanie Bishop herself. Bishop has written a haunting novel with a seemingly simple story: love gone awry. A woman runs into an ex-lover on the street (neither protagonist is named), and this meeting throws her back into the story of their past. The two narratives – her solitary life now and the tale, mainly, of the relationship’s end – run in parallel. The novel’s energy, however, is ruminative rather than linear, circling around the nature of their love, pressing at the bruises left by its collapse.

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Over the last couple of decades in Australia, short fiction has been a poor cousin to the literary novel. While this country continues to produce fine writers of short fiction, many of them struggle to achieve book publication of their works. Larger publishers often seem no more interested in collections of short fiction than they are in poetry collections. Their argument: short fiction, like poetry, does not sell. It has often been left to smaller Australian publishers to produce and promote short fiction writers, who are sometimes taken up by a major publisher if they achieve a notable success with a longer work.

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Matthew Flinders, arriving in Sydney in 1803 after circumnavigating Australia, wrote to his wife bemoaning ‘the dreadful havock that death is making all around’. The sailors in Peter Mews’s Bright Planet have a more phlegmatic attitude. At least twelve of the ship’s complement of sixteen fail to survive the expedition. There may be more, but death becomes an everyday occurrence hardly worth mentioning. By the end, we are not entirely sure whether the remaining characters are alive or dead.

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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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Confessing the Blues by Anson Cameron & Saigon Tea by Graham Reilly

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December 2002-January 2003, no. 247

Comedy, Angela Carter once quipped, is tragedy that happens to other people. Laughter is both an expression of our hard-bitten knowledge of the random cruelty of a universe that stubbornly resists our attempts to control it and an act of defiance in the face of that cruelty. Or, to put it in simpler terms, if you didn’t laugh, you’d cry.

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Dorothy Porter’s new verse novel, Wild Surmise, takes an almost classic form. The verse novel is now well-established as a modern genre, and Porter has stamped a distinctive signature and voice on the verse form, particularly with the phenomenal success of her racy, action-packed detective novel, The Monkey’s Mask (1994) ...

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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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