Penguin

One heady day in the mid I920s, sculptor and Lindsayite recruit Guy Lynch (brother of the elegaic subject of Slessor’s ‘Five Bells’), held forth in a pub at Circular Quay on his plan for Sydney to become an Hellenic city. The Quay itself he saw as a magnificent ampitheatre for the incarnation of the Lindsay group’s Nietzschean dream of Dionysian joy, as revealed in the vital art affirmed as the salvation from the twin vices of bourgeois philistinism and modernistic decadence, the canon that ran from Shakespeare, Rubens and Beethoven, to Norman Lindsay and Hugh McCrae. He-men would lean against pillars, girls would stroll about, and grand opera would be played amongst forests of statues.

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One of Frank Moorhouse’s stories in his collection The Americans, Baby (1972) vividly describes two people’s tentative steps across a divide. It is a sexual overture, but also one that defies the constraints of national stereotypes. Carl, an Australian university student, bristles at an American man’s advances. Uneasy about his new sexual identity, he is unable to shake the sense that he is consorting with the enemy, at a time of mass protests against the Vietnam War. At the story’s end, the two men lie together in bed holding hands. The American urges his Australian lover to wipe his tears, then comments obliquely: ‘I guess this is the way it is with us.’

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Wagner’s Creek is a rundown seaside village full of fibro shacks, rubbish and the ‘dirt poor’: ‘Their boredom and despair was as high as the dry grass in their yards and as deep as the ruts in the road – and their hearts seemed as broken as their hanging gates and peeling fences.’ Elizabeth Stead’s other novel, The Fishcastle (2000), was also set in a seaside village where, as in Wagner’s Creek, strange things happen. Time goes more slowly in Wagner’s Creek, and the weather is different from everywhere else.

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John Bryson has tried to solve one of Australia’s great mysteries – how Azaria Chamberlain died. The cover of Evil Angels gives the clue to his answer. A bruise-coloured sky glowers over a stark, orange-brown desert. There is the twisted relic of a tree in the foreground and in front of it, like a spreading puddle of blood, the shadow of a dingo, its eyes on an evil slant.

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Okay, I’ll tell you what’s wrong with this country. For a start, we have this profoundly stupid and deeply irritating myth that we’re all irreverent freedom-loving larrikins and easygoing egalitarians, when it is painfully obvious that we have long been a nation of prudes and wowsers, that our collective psyche has been warped by what Patrick Mullins describes, with his characteristic lucidity, as ‘a fear of contaminating international influences’, and that we are not just an insular, conservative, and deeply conformist society, but for some unaccountable reason we take pride in our ignorance and parochialism. And let’s not neglect the fact that we are cringingly deferential and enamoured of hierarchy. Oh yes, it’s all master–slave dialectics and daddy issues around here. Why the hell else would we keep electing entitled, smirking, condescending autocrats?

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J.R. Burgmann reviews 'Ghost Species' by James Bradley

J.R. Burgmann
Friday, 24 April 2020

James Bradley’s Ghost Species arrives at a time when fiction seems outpaced by the speed with which we humans are changing the planet. Alarmingly, such writerly speculation has been realised during Australia’s tragic summer, when the future finally bore down on us. And there are few writers of climate fiction – or ‘cli-fi’, the term coined by activist blogger Dan Bloom and popularised in a tweet by Margaret Atwood – who so delicately straddle the conceptual divide between present and future as Bradley.

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Starters & Writers

Mark Rubbo
Friday, 24 April 2020

Lloyd O'Neil, long-time publisher of popular Australian non-fiction, has announced that he has sold his company to Penguin. O'Neil is credited with initiating the growth of the indigenous publishing industry in the postwar period. His decision to print his books overseas in 1963 changed the whole nature of the business: ‘For the first time we could produce Australian books at a standard and price that was comparable with overseas,’ he said.

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Paul Eggert reviews 'Jimmy Brockett' by Dal Stivens

Paul Eggert
Friday, 24 April 2020

First published in 1951 and again in 1959, Dal Stivens’s novel, Jimmy Brockett, is now republished as one of Penguin’s ‘Australian Selection’. Reading it, you find yourself being drawn into admiration of a man who is undeniably obnoxious.

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If Australia during the last century was ‘no place for a nervous lady’, this collection of women’s writings edited by Lucy Frost establishes with simple eloquence that it certainly was no place for a nervous gentleman.

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What Revolution? The title’s a teaser! Echoes of Lefty/Godot? You’ll understand if I’m infected by Noel McLachlan’s prose. On page after page, sentences and semi-sentences addressing the reader informally/colloquially (even verblessly!), rich in apostrophes, italics, parentheses, sloping lines between pairs/triads, even quartets/quintets, of words, ending often with exclamation marks and (nine times on one page I’ve counted!) question marks.

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