Peter Rose

Most editors look forwards, not back. We have to: there are pages to fill, readers to court, deadlines to meet. But publication of a 300th issue of a literary review invites retrospection, if not undue nostalgia... ... (read more)

Each year on Australia Day, newspaper readers disinter their magnifying glasses and begin to inch down the columns of this year’s national honours like proofreaders at a gala ball. And each list produces its surprises, its gratifications and its absurdities. Normally, ABR doesn’t concern itself overmuch with prizes and such. Laurels grow like grapes in this country. But the absence of creative writers this year was so marked as to warrant comment.

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Sunrise West by Jacob G. Rosenberg

by
October 2007, no. 295

Gunther Grass, in his suave and controversial memoirs, Peeling the Onion (Harvill Secker, 2007, trans. Michael Henry Heim), rehearses many of the modern autobiographer’s qualms about the biddability of memory. Grass, with his long history of attacking other Germans’ wartime activities while concealing his own service in the Tenth SS Armoured Division, has every incentive to question the memoirist’s primary tool. ‘When pestered with questions,’ Grass writes, ‘memory is like an onion that wishes to be peeled so we can read what is laid bare letter by letter. It is seldom unambiguous and often in mirror-writing or otherwise disguised.’ Changing metaphors, Grass contends with memory’s caprices and slippages: ‘Memory likes to play hide-and-seek, to crawl away. It tends to hold forth, to dress up, often needlessly. Memory contradicts itself; pedant that it is, it will have its way.’

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Listen, Lesbia!
Surely you can hear.
Shake off that silly hangover
while I part the curtains
just slightly.

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It is rare in Australia for a literary biographer, even one of distinction, to write at book length about her intellectual formation and biographical pursuits. A country so demonstrably forgetful of its best poetry and fiction is unlikely to foster a literature of this burgeoning genre, still emerging from its decorous constraints. Elsewhere, we have Richard Holmes’s seminal Footsteps: Adventures of a Romantic biographer (1995) and Leon Edel’s Bloomsbury: A house of lions (1979), but Australian examples are few. So it is good to have Brenda Niall’s lucid account of her gradual transformation from academic to biographer.

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My theme is the mixed and contentious business of reviewing: its influence, its limitations, its present condition in what we like to call our literary culture. I will largely confine my remarks to the literary pages of our newspapers and magazines. I don’t propose to comment on the learned journals – or criticism at monograph length issuing from the academy. (Not, sadly, that there is much of that kind of publishing in Australia these days.)

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When Barry Humphries published his first volume of autobiography, many readers were left wanting ‘More, please’ – avid as gladdie-waving victims during one of his shows; voracious as the greedy polymath himself ...

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Welcome to our final issue for 2001! Our summer issue – arrestingly illustrated on the cover – is a double one, and longer than previous ones this year. Funds permitting, we hope to be able to publish more eighty-page issues in 2002, especially in the second half of the year, when so many Australian books, both general and scholarly, are published. This expansion allows us to add new features: ‘Best Books of the Year’ column (children’s as well as adult books); short fiction; and a ‘Summer Reading’ column, containing brief reviews of worthy titles for which we haven’t been able to find the wonted page or two. Columns such as ‘Best Books of the Year’, in which various critics nominate two favourite books of the year and one ‘surprise’, are certainly not intended to be the last word on the subject. Such columns are inevitably subjective. But it is interesting to hear from some of our regular critics and contributors about their assessment of quality publications here and overseas. If it points some readers to fine books they may have overlooked, I think it is worthwhile.

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In February 1974, Robert Rose, a twenty-two-year-old Australian Rules footballer and Victorian state cricketer, was involved in a car accident that left him quadriplegic for the remaining twenty-five years of his life. The tragedy received extensive press coverage and struck a chord with many in and beyond the Melbourne sporting community ...

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‘A pox on the GST!’ wrote one of our many new readers last month when filling in her subscription form. ABR has long been famous for its feisty correspondence (never more so than last month). This editor is not about to disagree with our new subscriber. The imposition of GST on books and magazines surely rates as one of the crasser political acts in recent years. Anyone unsure of its effect on literature in this country should ask booksellers and publishers what sort of a year they had in 2000. Readers weren’t unscathed, either.

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