In her short memoir of Susan Sontag, novelist Sigrid Nunez claims that she did not read the obituaries and commentaries after her death in 2004, and that she was never much interested in what other people said about Sontag. If it’s true, she is indeed a rara avis. Susan Sontag, in death as in life, generates enormous interest and a growing literature, one that pro ...
It is a hundred years since the publication of Howards End (one of only five novels by E.M. Forster to be published during his lifetime), and longer still, or so it seems, since Lytton Strachey, his fellow Apostle, entranced the Bloomsburys in the drawing room at 46 Gordon Square by daring to utter the word ‘semen’. Virginia Woolf dated modernity from t ...
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.... (read more)
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.’... (read more)
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.... (read more)
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.)... (read more)