Archive

‘The fucken oozing nakedness, the despair of being such a vulnerable egg-sac of a critter, like, a so-called human being, just sickens me sometimes, especially right now. The Human Condition Mom calls it. Watch out for that fucker.’

The speaker of these lines, fifteen-year-old Vernon Little, is a literary descendant of Huckleberry Finn.

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Biography can be difficult to achieve. There is the balance between too much detail, where one can’t see the wood for the family trees, or not enough, which can be disappointing all round. One also bears in mind possible antipathy: Sigmund Freud, who famously began burning his personal papers at twenty-nine, was dismissive of future chroniclers: ‘As for biographers, I am already looking forward to seeing them go astray.’

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It is eight years since Delia Falconer published her successful début novel, The Service of Clouds. Eight years is a long time. It took James Joyce eight years to write Ulysses (1922). Eight years is one year longer than Joseph Heller laboured over Catch-22 (1961) and about six years longer than it took George Eliot to knock out Middlemarch (1871-72).

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There were seven of them, as in a folk tale. The family was too poor to put shoes on their feet. They lived in a village called New. Hard though life was, they knew it would be worse without Kindly Leader, who was carrying the land into prosperity and joy. At present, however, the seven sons had little to eat.

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Clive James needs no introduction, though he asked Julian Barnes to provide one for Reliable Essays, a selection from three decades of James’s literary journalism made by his publisher, Peter Straus. The Kid from Kogarah is, as The New Yorker once famously observed, ‘a brilliant bunch of guys’ ...

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Someone once described Clive James as ‘a great bunch of guys’, a joke worthy of James himself, although he is probably tired of hearing it. Some of those guys – the television comedian and commentator, the best-selling memoirist – are better known than others, and there’s little doubt that their fame has obscured the achievement of two of the quieter guys in the bunch.

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Manning Clark rescued Australian history from blandness and predictability by making Australia a cockpit in which the great faiths of Europe continued their battle, with results that were distinctive. He concentrated on the great characters who were bearers of one of the faiths: Protestantism, Catholicism, or the Enlightenment.

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W.H. Auden, following Samuel Butler, thought that ‘the true test of imagination is the ability to name a cat’, and plenty of people, poets, and others have believed this: to recast a dictum of Christ’s, if you can’t be trusted with the cats, why should we trust you with the tigers? Gwen Harwood could be trusted with the cats, and with yet more domestic things; here, for example, is her fairly late poem ‘Cups’

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You might expect a book of eighty-eight new poems by Les Murray to be sizeable (most of his recent single volumes run to about sixty poems each). But Poems the Size of Photographs is literally a small book, composed of short poems (‘though some are longer’, says the back cover) ...

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When Barry Humphries published his first volume of autobiography, many readers were left wanting ‘More, please’ – avid as gladdie-waving victims during one of his shows; voracious as the greedy polymath himself ...

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