Archive

Judith Armstrong reviews 'Anastasia: A novel' by Colin Falconer

Judith Armstrong
Wednesday, 03 June 2020

What’s a nice girl called Anastasia doing in the Whangpoa River? Maybe she’s the daughter of the last tsar who everyone thought was dead, or maybe it’s just a girl who looks like a Russian princess and happens to have the same name. If the proposition sounds familiar, be assured by Colin Falconer that Anastasia Romanovs were thick on the streets of Shanghai after the White Russian diaspora of 1917–18.

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Bev Roberts reviews 'Selected Poems' by Gwen Harwood

Bev Roberts
Wednesday, 03 June 2020

One afternoon at the recent Melbourne Writers’ Festival I noticed that, while adulatory throngs surrounded Elizabeth Jolley and Thea Astley, another notable member of our literary matriarchy, Gwen Harwood, sat quietly outside in the sun, deep in philosophical discussion with a younger poet. This is a comment on the differential status accorded to fiction writers and poets, but also on the relatively self-effacing Gwen and her presence or place in the literary world.

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My acid test of a good novel is how long the characters reverberate in the consciousness after the book has been put down. After I read both these books, I carried Grace Starr and Steven Messenger around in my head for weeks – both of them dangerous and mysterious persons, but in very different ways.

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Astrid Di Carlo reviews 'What You Own' by Thomas Shapcott

Astrid Di Carlo
Wednesday, 03 June 2020

Come on in. Do you like mango chutney? I myself have never had mango chutney, not liking mangos, but Phil’s an expert on making the stuff. It never lasts, but make sure you use green mangos because the old ones are too stringy.

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Reading Mr Robinson

Inga Clendinnen
Wednesday, 03 June 2020

I grew up in a once-upon-a-time land when milk and loaves appeared at the door to the jingle of bells and the clopping of hooves, when housewives were wistful Cinderellas in sacking aprons and hair permanently rollered for the ball, when men wore hats, and lifted them to the funerals of strangers passing in the street. That time – the forties, the early fifties – has been mythologised into a Camelot of Anglo-Celtic virtue, or a dark age of tribalism and British cooking. In my recollection, of course, it was neither, but simply the way things were. It is disconcerting to find one’s private past, one’s little collection of ordinary memories, become a matter of ideological dispute, and to discover, after peaceful decades spent reading historical documents, that you have become a historical document yourself.

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The way we organise our deaths offers insight into the meanings and significances we attribute to life. The sidelining of organised religion has allowed Australians to voice our own ideas about the muddles of existence through the choice of music for funerals. The regularity with which ‘I did it my way’ is heard at wakes is a reminder of how much more pertinent that song is for individuality than are newspaper columns by Bettina Arndt or Hugh Mackay, still less from Andrea Dworkin or the late Christopher Lasch.

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The two books reviewed here, although very different in many ways, do have one thing in common – they have something to do with a secret, which the readers, and the protagonists, all come to know.

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In the title story of Kerryn Goldsworthy’s impressive first collection, a man and a woman are travelling inland from the city towards the point where main roads give way to obscure tracks. Their relationship is failing, though they have yet to admit this to each other.

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Vane Lindesay reviews 'Ramming the Shears' by Michael Leunig

Vane Lindesay
Wednesday, 03 June 2020

The thing that has distinguished the ‘inspired genius’ from the run of the mill ‘practitioner’ in all creativity is quality of mind. Michael Leunig, few Australians have to be told, has this. But astonishingly, quality of mind has not been a gradual, developing part of Leunig’s work, for it was evident as an integral part of his art, first widely seen in the pages of the fondly remembered National Review fifteen years ago. This is not to say he has not developed – he has in subtle directions and of course his graphic expression too has developed, as it should, with the discipline of creating for the Melbourne Age newspaper.

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Brian Dibble reviews 'Foxybaby' by Elizabeth Jolley

Brian Dibble
Tuesday, 02 June 2020

A colleague asked if I thought that Elizabeth Jolley’s Foxybaby might have gone ‘over the top’. I assume she meant that the book might be ‘too much’ because the function of its preoccupation with (say) crime and sex, including incest and homosexuality, was not immediately apparent. The question is a reasonable one, but for two reasons I don’t think that her latest novel does go over the top: there is no theme used or technique employed in Foxybaby which has not appeared in Jolley’s writing before; and, ad astra (perhaps per aspera or per ardua), the book represents a logical but highly imaginative development from her most recent work.

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