Flamingo

The Snow Queen by Mardi McConnochie

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May 2003, no. 251

When I was about ten, I used to devour the books of an English children’s author named Noel Streatfield. The most famous was called Ballet Shoes, which took young antipodeans onto the stage and into the wings of another world, the London theatre scene. Galina Koslova, a Russian-born émigrée to South Australia and the heroine of The Snow Queen, gives Ballet Shoes to a step-granddaughter, correctly designating it a classic. I wondered whether Mardi McConnochie’s novel was designed to fill the gap left on adult bookshelves by long-abandoned copies of Ballet Shoes, even if our reading requirements have matured.

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The Art of the Engine Driver by Stephen Carroll & Summerland: A Novel by Malcolm Knox

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November 2001, no. 236

If history is a graveyard of dead aristocracies, the novel is their eulogy. It is now, for instance, a critical commonplace to explain the young Proust’s entry into the closed world of France’s nobility as an occurrence made possible by its dissolution. Close to death, holding only vestigial power, the fag ends of the ancien régime lost the will or ...

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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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There is about Lisa Merrifield’s second novel a quality of aqueousness, an obsessive returning to states of immersion, whether in water, sleep, waves, a glass of gin. Hers is a superb exploration of the gelatinous margin between mind and world, innocence and experience, madness and sanity – those interregnums in the government of the self. And while it is from the weird clarity of this amniotic silence that Arriving at Night draws its various strengths, it is the same somnolence – the torpor of fiction in aspic – that comprises its singular flaw.

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