Archive

Russel Ward’s new book is a revision of History, which he published in 1965, mainly for an American audience. In fact, it was read more in Australia and now he has extended the work, put in more detail, and, presumably in response to recent developments, included some cursory glances at the doings of Aborigines, explorers, and the female half of the Australian people.

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Kerryn Goldsworthy reviews 'Sisters' edited by Drusilla Modjeska

Kerryn Goldsworthy
Tuesday, 17 November 2020

A few years ago, there was a great song on the radio, a song about remembering riding with an assortment of brothers and sisters in the back seat of the car. I don’t even recall the name of the song, much less the name of the band, but there was a line in the chorus that used to wipe me out: ‘And we all have our daddy’s eyes.’

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Margaret Smith reviews 'The Robber Bride' by Margaret Atwood

Margaret Smith
Tuesday, 17 November 2020

Ever since the publication of Margaret Atwood’s first novels, The Edible Woman and Surfacing, she has been seized upon as a writer who articulated the predicament of being female in contemporary western societies. Her Canadian origins were no barrier for many Australian women, who read her as though she spoke with their voice. Atwood was like a ‘sister’ who didn’t fail them – someone who’d been there and could help light the way.

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Clare O’Farrell reviews 'Coda' by Thea Astley

Clare O'Farrell
Tuesday, 17 November 2020

Each of the three parts that make up Thea Astley’s new novel, Coda, is prefaced by a newspaper report, real or imaginary, detailing cases of ‘granny-dumping’, the ruthless abandonment of old, frail, and disoriented people by their unidentified children. This sets the scene for a reflection on old age and the rejection of those whose physical and mental capacities no longer meet the stringent requirements of the standard economically viable unit of modem civilisation. The manifest duty of such objects is to be as discreet as possible, providing minimal inconvenience to others (especially their adult children) until they can fade into oblivion.

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Geoffrey Dutton reviews 'A Body of Water' by Beverley Farmer

Geoffrey Dutton
Monday, 16 November 2020

In this new book, Beverley Farmer quotes George Steiner: ‘In modernism collage has been the representative device.’ The blurb calls A Body of Water a montage. Well, it’s a difficult book to describe. It’s not a pasting together, there’s no smell of glue about it. Nor is it put together, plonk, thunk, like stones. It’s rather, in her own words, an interweaving.

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‘Even when there’s simultaneity,’ as one of Michael Wilding’s characters says, there’s still linearity that needs to be found, and linearity is difficult to find in this group of books. So, it is better, as Wilding’s book also suggests, to let the books perform and then see the pattern they make. Pacific Highway, in fact, is a kind of haiku novel, which coheres into a single expressive emblem, the emblem of the dance its narrator offers us at the end.

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Gerard Henderson takes as the subject of this important book the relations between the bishops of the Catholic Church and its lay organisation, the Catholic Social Studies Movement during the period from 1940 to the 1960s. The study is particularly welcome as neither Church nor Movement were given to public self-exposure. Henderson, by using the files of the National Civic Council and the minutes of relevant episcopal committees, has given us an insight into the conflicts within the church over its role in political activity in this period

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My Blue-Checker Corker and Me probably has enough strengths to make one forget, eventually, most of its irritating features. Paul Radley’s story of ‘a small mellow world’ is unashamedly emotional. and Radley is clearly fascinated with the possibilities of language. This is the story of a twelve-year-old boy and his relationship with his grandfather, his mates and his pigeons.

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At the time that I was asked to review Rosemary Lancaster’s Je Suis Australienne: Remarkable Women in France, 1880–1945, I was reading American writer Helen Barolini’s Their Other Side: Six American Women and the Lure of Italy (2006). The books are similar: five of Lancaster’s six chapters are devoted to individual women whose lives and experience, like those in Barolini, cover the period from the late nineteenth century to the mid twentieth. Both books are very much of the transnational moment, with its preoccupations with movement, connections and experience across borders, and premises that the identities of individuals and nations are formed abroad in contact and collision with others, as well as at home. The number of studies of overseas lives continues to grow but is surpassed by transcultural life writing, including Australian, in what has been described as ‘villa/ge’ books, travel writing that is about the destination not the voyaging, about living abroad rather than touring, about subject in situ rather than ‘situ’.

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‘I never thought Australia needed culture of any kind,’ drawls Barry Humphries in Not Quite Hollywood, Mark Hartley’s recent documentary on Australian ‘trash’ cinema of the 1970s and 1980s. Perverse aesthete that he is, Humphries cannot resist the idea that lack of refinement might be a sign of vitality: ‘Culture is yoghurt, isn’t it, or mould? It grows on decaying things.’

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