Our fascination with Gallipoli is probably at a peak. Like other symbolic events, it rises, falls and rises again in public esteem and curiosity. In the last quarter of a century, beginning when Anzac Day was at a low ebb, books and documentaries about Gallipoli have flooded bookshops and television stations. This new book by Professor Robin Prior, a specialist Australian historian of World War I, argues that the flood tide has almost drowned us in myths. The subtitle of his book is ‘The End of the Myth’. It is doubtful whether one able historian can terminate the myths, but this is a brave attempt.... (read more)
Stickers on a rotten apple
In his review of Angela Bennie’s anthology of hostile Australian reviews, Peter Rose is correct when he surmises that ‘we tend to exaggerate the number of severe reviews’ (September 2006). I think that, generally, Australians do not like disagreement; they prefer to ‘keep the peace’, and this is mostly true of our critics also.
The really troubling aspect of Crême de la Phlegm: Unforgettable Australian Reviews (apart from the clear assumption of its subtitle that it is only adverse reviews which are ‘unforgettable’) was a comment in Bennie’s introductory essay. At least on my reading, she appeared to generalise that our critics are ‘philistines’. Many maybe, but I’d rather not call them critics.... (read more)
How disappointing your cover feature on The First Stone turned out to be. I feel very let down by the most mediocre review I’ve read on this most talked-about work. Your former Editor, Rosemary Sorensen, wrote a superb, thought-provoking piece in the Sydney Morning Herald. I expected the review in ABR to be of similar quality.
Brian White, Elwood, Vic.
(Ed’s reply: You might be interested to know that the Sydney Morning Herald chose to republish a shortened version of Cassandra Pybus’s review of The First Stone, on Wednesday 10 May, acknowledging it was first published in ABR.)... (read more)
Dr Jenna Mead claims, among other things in her most recent attempt to discredit The First Stone, that I have ‘invented dialogue’ and written ‘hypothetical meetings with imaginary characters’. All the conversations and encounters in the book are documented in detailed, scrupulous notes. This includes my account of a telephone conversation between Dr Mead and me, which she would perhaps prefer to think of as a figment of my ‘merciless imagination. If only Dr Mead were an imaginary character – but it would strain the ingenuity of a better writer than I am, to have dreamt her up.
Helen Garner, Elizabeth Bay NSW... (read more)
The past is in Scotland
Christina Hill’s review of Peter Goldsworthy’s latest novel, Everything I Knew (November 2008), seems sure-footed in both its negative assessment of an ‘overwrought, undisciplined’ work and its appreciation of the novel’s compositional play, both intricate and subversive, with L.P. Hartley’s The Go-Between. It makes no mention, however, of the novel’s pointed intrigue with lyricism.... (read more)
This year’s inclusion of two Australian novels on the Man Booker Prize shortlist is a rare event, but no one was more surprised than one of the authors, M.J. Hyland, listed for Carry Me Down. Hyland went along to the dinner to support her friend Andrew O’Hagan, who was widely expected to make the final list for Be Near Me. Hyland was amazed to find herself on the shortlist. O’Hagan was not shortlisted. Nor were several other fancied contenders, including Nadine Gordimer, David Mitchell and Peter Carey, whose Theft: A Love Story seems to be the work of a novelist at the height of his powers.... (read more)
Readers will notice major changes in this second issue of ABR for 2001. The cover looks notably different, courtesy of Chong, Text Publishing’s inimitable designer. I was delighted when Chong offered to redesign our cover. Our changed masthead seems sensible, for the magazine is known widely as ABR, after all. Readers can expect more design changes in coming issues.... (read more)
Marcella Polain’s latest book of poems continues her lyrical exploration of personal experience. Her earlier collections centred on immigrant life, shadowed by a violent history, in the adopted context of the Western Australian wheat belt. In the new poems, which occupy more than one third of the current volume, the emotional terrain has thickened, and the range of experience has expanded to include midlife concerns of failing health, ageing parents and death. ‘So this is what life is,’ Polain writes, ‘nausea, vertigo, migraine, cramps.’ One poem describes the extra chores of helping her mother, and ends: ‘Last Sunday you couldn’t remember who I was or / what you wanted me to buy for you.’... (read more)
Peter Pierce reviews 'The Wolf: The most audacious warship of World War One and its 15-Month campaign of terror against Australia and the world' by Richard Guilliatt and Peter Hohnen
Late in November 1916, the German commerce raider Wolf, laden with 100 tonnes of mines, set out on a journey of 100,000 kilometres across three oceans. After the ship reached home, in February 1918, 442 days later, its guns and mines had destroyed more than twenty Allied vessels. Hundreds of their crews and passengers had been held captive. When the voyage of the Wolf began, German U-boats were sinking hundreds of thousands of tonnes of shipping each month. The belated adoption of the convoy system drastically reduced those losses, so that the Germans, rather than the British, suffered the worse privation in the last year of the Great War. In that time, Wolf was the only German surface warship not penned up by the British naval blockade.... (read more)
The Gooneratnes’ mountain bungalow, overlooking rippling tea plantations, is called Pemberley, after Mr Darcy’s mansion. A wall plaque commemorates Elizabeth Bennet’s description of it. In the style of a modern Jane Austen, Yasmine Gooneratne takes up the enduring and universal question of who will marry whom, as Vikram Seth did in his mega-novel A Suitable Boy (1994), and at similarly entertaining length. The topic is Bollywood’s favourite too, but before writing The Sweet and Simple Kind, Professor Gooneratne, a specialist in eighteenth-century fiction and poetry, had not seen the film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.... (read more)