Allen & Unwin

In the last twenty years, the belief in a transformative left – socialist, communist, whatever – has collapsed more comprehensively than at any time since its beginnings in 1789. The Western working class is overwhelmingly oriented towards individual life, acquisition and consumption; the working class of the developing world has not developed major radical parties in the face of substantial repression of trade union organisation; faith in central planning, market socialism, interconnected cooperatives and the like drained away in the late 1970s, and no alternative plan for running the economy is on the table. 

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Suzy Freeman-Greene reviews 'Beauty' by Bri Lee

Suzy Freeman-Greene
Monday, 16 December 2019

My local shopping centre has seven nail bars, two waxing salons, and a brow bar. A cosmetic surgery clinic touts ‘facial line softening’ and ‘hydra facials’. A laser skin clinic offers cosmetic injections. Three other beauty temples offer ‘cool sculpting’, ‘eyelash perms’, and ‘light therapy’ for skin. I live in a gentrified, working-class suburb in Melbourne’s inner west. I’ve never set foot in these beauty shops, but they’re replicating like cells.

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Two of the greatest Australian crime writers died within six months of each other in 2018. Peter Temple authored nine novels, four of which featured roustabout Melbourne private detective Jack Irish, and one of which, Truth, won the Miles Franklin Literary Award in 2010. Temple died on 8 March 2018, aged seventy-one. Peter Corris was more prolific, writing a staggering eighty-eight books across his career, including historical fiction, biography, sport, and Pacific history. Forty-two of those highlighted the travails of punchy Sydney P.I. Cliff Hardy. Corris died on 30 August 2018, seventy-six and virtually blind.

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Kerryn Goldsworthy reviews 'Damascus' by Christos Tsiolkas

Kerryn Goldsworthy
Monday, 16 December 2019

The man traditionally held to have written about half of the New Testament is variously known as Saul of Tarsus, Paul the Apostle, and St Paul. Initially an enthusiastic persecutor of the earliest Christians, he underwent a dramatic conversion shortly after the Crucifixion, and it is on this moment that his life, and Christos Tsiolkas’s new novel, both turn. Damascus covers the period 35–87 ce, from shortly before Paul’s conversion until twenty or more years after his death. This chronology is not straightforwardly linear, with an assortment of narrators recounting their personal experiences, at various times and from various points of view, of Christianity’s birth and spread amid the brutal realities of the Roman Empire.

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Campaigning during the 1912 US presidential election, the great labour leader and socialist Eugene Debs used to tell his supporters that he could not lead them into the Promised Land because if they were trusting enough to be led in they would be trusting enough to be led out again. In other words, he was counselling his voters to resist the easy certitude that zealotry brings; to reject a politics that trades on blind faith rather than the critical power of reason.

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Four new Young Adult novels

Emily Gallagher
Monday, 25 November 2019

A whistleblower’s child hides from a drug ring in the Blue Mountains. A sixteen-year-old rolls through life like an armadillo. A Melbourne high-school graduate wrestles with her insecurities. The daughter of a Chinese restaurateur juggles her responsibility to care for her siblings as her mother’s health deteriorates.

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Brian Castro’s novel Birds of Passage is a dramatic exploration of the intriguing idea, found in Butler, Jung, and others, that an individual’s life may in some way be in touch with ancestral experience. It imagines the possibility of a previous life, its outlook on reality and rhythms of existence, flowing troublingly into the consciousness of the present. The book shared the valuable Australian Vogel Prize last year. It is of some interest, but is a distinctly uneven work. Romantic in concept in its adoption of the idea of racial memory and psychic disposition, it is sometimes sententious in tone in its reaching for poetic effect, and prone to mix its narrative modes disconcertingly. It is hard to see it as a major literary prize-winner, although some of the historical episodes in its dual narrative are nicely done and the basic idea in itself is an attractive one.

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Tim Howard reviews 'Ice' by Louis Nowra

Tim Howard
Thursday, 07 November 2019

‘Ice is everywhere,’ observes the narrator of Ice, Louis Nowra’s fifth novel, before succumbing to a bad case of the Molly Blooms and giving us a few pages of punctuation-free interior monologue. No wonder he’s so worked up: ice, in Ice, really is everywhere. It is subject, motif, organising principle, and all-purpose metaphor; it is death, life, stasis, progress; it is seven types of ambiguity and then some. For variety’s sake, Nowra occasionally wheels out a non-frozen alternative – taxidermy, waxworks – but the design is clear: these are merely different nuclei around which the same cluster of metaphors gather.'

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Adam Rivett reviews 'Musk and Byrne' by Fiona Capp

Adam Rivett
Thursday, 31 October 2019

Pitched awkwardly between mass-market romance and a literary novel, Musk and Byrne is a curious creation. Spending excessive verbal effort on a familiar and rather vacuous plot, the book never finds a satisfactory shape, and finally lacks a true purpose. Never intellectually thorough enough to offer an exploration of artistic identity, and not trashy enough to deliver tawdry thrills, it is both too well written and not very original.

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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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