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Obituary for Manning Clark

Patrick O’Farrell
Thursday, 07 November 2019

On 27 May, 1991, Manning Clark, Australian historian extraordinary, was buried from Canberra’s Roman Catholic cathedral by his friend the Jesuit Dr John Eddy, assisted by Professor Clark’s brother, an Anglican canon, and with the participation of his sons. After his death on 23 May, ABC national television had broadcast an interview of 1989 in which Clark had responded to the question of whether he believed in an afterlife with a firm no – to which he added that he saw merit in the response of a Mexican academic encountered twenty years before. On that matter, he harboured ‘a shy hope’. It is a smiling happy phrase, contrasting with the dark fear of future judgement that bedevils so many of the Protestant characters with which he populates his histories. And it was a qualification in harmony, not only with his occasional visits to the church that farewelled him, and earlier St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney and a multitude of European churches, but also with the ambivalence and perplexity at the heart of the man and his work. Some would call it contradiction or even evasion, but the native Australian sense of having a bob each way is sound policy, and Manning was not one for some pointless cremated affirmation of the kingdom of nothingness when he could have a touch of Catholic ritual and grandeur.

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It is quite extraordinary how often in this country we resort to caricature in our cultural expression. Think of the hammy acting in Australian films and television, the switches in levels of reality in Patrick White’s novels and plays, the new lead William Dobell gave to modern Australian painting or Keith Looby designs for Wagner. Peter Carey has made his fortune from it; Bill Leak has made it his trademark. And no, we won’t start on the politicians, thank you.

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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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The importance of reverie

Mary Eagle
Thursday, 07 November 2019

The traits women are encouraged to develop nowadays, such as outwardness, attitude, assertiveness, and professionalism, did not characterise Grace Cossington Smith (1892–1984). Family snapshots showed the young woman with tousled hair, guileless face, and buck-toothed smile: a neat-figured, long-skirted Edwardian tomboy after the style of Australian heroines in novels by Ethel Turner and Mary Grant Bruce. The older woman in family photographs still had the tomboy grin; conversely, when she showed a public face, the mouth was closed and the eyes steady behind glasses.

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Émile Zola

Brian Nelson
Thursday, 07 November 2019

Unlike Flaubert, the ‘hermit of Croisset’, who turned away from his age in an attitude of ironic detachment, Émile Zola (1840–1902) embraced his century in a way no French writer had done since Balzac. Zola’s ambition was to emulate Balzac by writing a comprehensive history of contemporary society. Through the fortunes of his Rougon-Macquart family, he examined methodically the social, sexual, and moral landscape of the late nineteenth century along with its political, financial, and artistic contexts. Zola is the quintessential novelist of modernity, understood in terms of an overwhelming sense of tumultuous change.

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How Australian Is It

Ihab Hassan
Thursday, 07 November 2019

The question is probably all wrong. How can an American – well, an Egyptian-born American, if hyphenate we must – pronounce life on Australia? I came to the Antipodes late in my life, drawn to the Pacific, that great wink of eternity, Melville called it, drawn to horizons more than to origins. I made friends and became in Australia a wintry celebrant.

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Another poet might invoke Edmund Burke’s famous treatise on the Sublime and the Beautiful as a piece of phraseology or a pleasing adornment, but with John Kinsella, such a title is dead serious. Elliot Perlman’s superb novel Seven Types of Ambiguity (2003) ingeniously makes the reader think of William Empson’s, and the idea of plural signification it evokes, but not instantly to reread it. Kinsella’s use of Burke’s title prompts one to reread the original – ideally, in a Kinsellan métier, on the internet, late at night. Additionally, the ‘shades’ in Kinsella’s title is an important supplement – shades as variations, colourings, but also shadows, undertones.

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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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In the last essay in this collection, Robert Macfarlane touches on the main reasons why Peter Carey’s novels ‘have proved so very attractive to academic exegetes’, in their combination of the postmodern and the postcolonial. Just how attractive is demonstrated in the sixty-page bibliography, which is sure to be one of the most used parts of Fabulating Beauty, especially by overseas readers without access to the invaluable AustLit. Editor Andreas Gaile, a young German academic, notes in his introduction that Carey is now ‘the most widely commented-on living Australian author’. While Patrick White is currently well ahead, with more than twice as many critical items published on his work, Carey is catching up fast. Visit any bookshop, whether in Melbourne, London, or New York, and you will of course find many more titles by Carey than by White. If, as Simon During has argued, White was the perfect novelist for those wishing to argue for the academic significance of Australian literature in the 1950s and 1960s, then Carey has just as obviously caught the dominant theoretical currents of the past thirty years. While Tim Winton may sell just as well and, if ‘favourite book’ polls are any guide, be more loved, no one has yet published a major critical study of his work.

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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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