Viking Press

Since the publication of her acclaimed first novel, Blood Kin (2007), Ceridwen Dovey has established herself as an intelligent author who typically probes what it means, and might mean in the future, to be human. Equally au fait with literary analysis, politics, and science, Dovey has since 2007 published several more books of fiction, two non-fiction books, and numerous essays, contributing regularly to The Monthly and The New Yorker. Now she has extended her range in fiction to a lighter mode, focusing on contemporary life and the pleasures of storytelling. Publishing in audio form has worked well in signalling Dovey’s new voice: Life After Truth was first published through the Australian and New Zealand Audible Originals program in November 2019, and her novel Once More with Feeling was released as an Audible Original in May 2020.

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Barack Obama has written the best presidential memoir since Ulysses S. Grant in 1885, and since Grant’s was mostly an account of his pre-presidential, Civil War generalship – written at speed, to stave off penury for his family, as he was dying of throat cancer – Obama’s lays some claim to being the greatest, at least so far. This first volume (of two) only reaches the third of his eight years in the White House.

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A relatively unusual occurrence until recently, the publication of a plethora of new Australian Aboriginal-authored and/or Aboriginal-themed children’s books has begun transforming the Australian publishing landscape. A number of these books, like Rhoda Lalara and Alfred Lalara’s charmingly evocative Yirruwa Yirrilikenuma-langwa (When We Go Walkabout: Allen & Unwin, $24.99 hb, 32 pp, 9781743314562), are rendered bilingually, in the latter case in Anindilyakwa, the mother tongue of the majority of Groote Eylandt residents, as well as in English.

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Charles Dickens by Claire Tomalin & Becoming Dickens by Robert Douglas-Fairhurst

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March 2012, no. 339

This is how Claire Tomalin closes her Dickens biography: ‘He left a trail like a meteor, and everyone finds their own version of Charles Dickens’, followed by a long list of types. I consider Dickens the surrealist, or the sentimentalist, but then I pick Dickens the tireless walker. And I concede, with Tomalin, that regarding his life and work, ‘a great many questions hang in the air, unanswered and mostly unanswerable’.

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At its best, popular fiction is almost cinematic. As readers, we know what to expect but still gasp in awe as the rug is pulled from under us in pursuit of thrills, chills, and narrative twists. Honey Brown’s second novel, The Good Daughter, is a fine example of the modern ethos. It reads like a classic girl-gone-bad screenplay. Rebecca Toyer, from the wrong side of the tracks, meets Zach Kincaid, a rich boy with skeletons in his closet. They are drawn together, but family secrets threaten to drive them apart. When Zach’s mother goes missing, Rebecca is implicated in her disappearance. During the course of the narrative, she encounters drug dealers, crooked cops, and her fair share of sex, lies, and betrayal. Zach struggles to cope with his family legacy. From early on, he is the powder keg that threatens to ignite the book’s narrative.

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My first thought on seeing the title was that Delaware Carpenter, the loveable ‘Professor’ in An Accommodating Spouse (1999) had made a comeback. While An Accommodating Spouse had a predominantly humorous tone, this new novel is serious. On one level, An Innocent Gentleman is a Bildungsroman for a married couple in which both need to be shaken out of their arrested development. All the usual ingredients are there: a father–son and mother–daughter conflict, an avuncular friend, an epiphanous journey from the provinces to a great city, a clash of cultures, illicit sex, the discovery of a Lebenslüge against the backdrop of World War II (the result of England’s Lebenslüge) and optimistic closure as a relationship is redefined. On another level, the novel continues to explore a familiar Jolleyesque motif: the Oedipal father–daughter and daughter–mother relationships, illustrated by the Persephone and Electra conflicts, respectively. In Jolley’s novel Foxybaby (1985), Miss Peycroft advises the novelist Miss Porch: ‘and for heaven’s sake don’t lose sight of the Oedipus and Electra complexes.’ Well, Jolley never did. They are thematic concerns in Miss Peabody’s Inheritance (1983), where the middle-aged Mr Frome marries the big-breasted Gwenda who is all of sixteen; in The Sugar Mother (1988), where Leila, another voluptuous teenager, is sold by her mother to the elderly and childless professor Edwin as a surrogate mother; and, most importantly, in My Father’s Moon (1989), which constructs a most complex Oedipal scenario that has the central character, Vera, seduce her (surrogate) father and betray her mother. In this new novel, however, those two complexes exist outside the narrative and refer to Jolley’s own troubled relationship with her mother and father.

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Eat Well and Stay Out of Jail by Leonie Stevens & Perfect Skin by Nick Earls

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April 2000, no. 219

‘Look, here I am, I’m sixteen and I’m hundreds of miles from home! I want adventure! I want excitement! I want to boldly go where no Noble has gone before. Look at me! Look! Look!’ In Leonie Stevens’s Eat Well and Stay Out of Jail, Vicky Noble has left Melbourne to escape the tedium of a shelf-stacking job at the supermarket and the torment of a publicly failed romance. Vicky wants more than just to run away from her life. She craves a brand new one, preferably on the Jack Kerouac model.

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Geoffrey Dutton will not concentrate. Information relevant to his subject reminds him of other titbits, as in this cascade of irrelevancies:

McKee Wright deserves the credit for having first published Slessor, and he published a remarkable number of women poets. However, some of his favourites amongst the latter might have been better left in obscurity. Marie E.J. Pitt, for example, in the issue for 10 July 1919:

Oh, take me, take me, little wind that blows
Ere the young moon
Blossoms in heaven like a mystic rose,
And the stars swoon
Down languorous aisles of Night’s enchanted noon!

(‘Noon’ for ‘midnight’, incidentally, is the old usage sanctified by Tennyson: ‘Night hath climbed her peak of highest noon.’)

For a biography of Slessor, Dutton should have made the first comma a full stop, unless the point was to let us know that Dutton knows his Tennyson.

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One of the truly astonishing accounts to emerge in Munster’s account concerns another US president, John F. Kennedy, whose press secretary, Pierre Salinger, forged a cable in Murdoch’s name to kill a Murdoch report of an off-the-record talk he had with the president. The cable, sent through State Department channels, was signed ‘Murdoch’.

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Archimedes and the Seagle by David Ireland & Jane Austen in Australia by Barbara Ker Wilson

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October 1984, no. 65

‘I wrote this book to show what dogs can do’, writes Archimedes the red setter in the preface to his book, and what follows are the experiences, observations, and reflections of a dog both ordinary and extraordinary. Archimedes’ physical life is constrained by his ‘employment’ with the Guests, an average Sydney suburban family – father, mother, and three children. He is taken for walks – the dog laws make unaccompanied walks too dangerous, he leaves his ‘messages’ in appropriate places, he knows the electricity poles intimately, and the dogs in his territory, Lazy Bill, Princess, Old Sorrowful Eyes, and Victor the bulldog.

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