Novelist Gilbert Parker’s appraisal of Brisbane, penned during his visit in 1889 and quoted by Matthew Condon in this new, impressionistic history of the city, is not one that Condon wants to repeat, yet is powerless to refute: ‘Brisbane is not the least poetical … There is a sense of disappointment, which grows deeper as the sojourn in the capital is continued.’... (read more)
A sarcastic little slogan on a wall in Australia’s arts funding organisation in the mid-1990s read ‘Il y a trop d’art’. All right, it was meant in jest, but it seemed to hint broadly at shared bureaucratic resentment of importunate artists, even though they were the Council’s clients and the reason, indeed, for its very existence. Remember the national health hospital in Yes Minister that ran perfectly until it had to take patients?... (read more)
In their recent polemic What’s Wrong With Anzac? (2010), Marilyn Lake and Henry Reynolds lament the militarisation of Australian history epitomised by the profusion of memoirs and military history in bookshops. The authors make a fair point that war history and commemoration has drowned out other notable achievements and failings in our country’s past. But their broad brush sweeps away an important Australian tradition of critical reflection about war and society. If historians ignored Australians at war – as most did until the 1970s – there would be much more wrong with Anzac. Anzac Legacies, edited by Martin Crotty and Marina Larsson, is a compelling and insightful collection of carefully researched essays about the impact of war upon Australians and Australian society. It is a timely reminder that historians need to stay in the Anzac game, and can take it in challenging directions.... (read more)
Dianne Dempsey reviews 'Thicker than Water' by Lindy Cameron, 'The Castlemain Murders' by Kerry Greenwood and 'The Cutting' by Lee Tulloch
Miss Maude Silver, Miss Jane Marple, where are you, with your splendid and authoritative bosoms, your discreet inquiries, natural reticence, and cunning powers of deduction? Oh, a long way from these sisters in crime.... (read more)
Gig Ryan reviews 'Starlight' by John Tranter and 'The Salt Companion to John Tranter' edited by Rod Mengham
John Tranter has published more than twenty books since 1970. They include long dramatic monologues, a type of verse novel (The Floor of Heaven, 1992), prose poems and traditional verse forms. Starlight, his new collection, continues his ‘evisceration’, as he calls it, of other poets.... (read more)
Jessica Rudd’s fiction début, Campaign Ruby, is witty and warm-hearted chick lit set against a convincingly painted and disconcertingly prescient political backdrop.... (read more)
I am in Louisiana with the dogs,
my lost generations of dogs.
How I got there, what budget tour I’m on,
whether my papers are in order,
my visa credible, is a total mystery.
My first contact with Arthur Phillips was through a note signed A.A.P., attached to a short story that an editor couldn’t find space for. The note pointed out that the story lacked reality, e.g. a child was allowed to sit in a hotel bar. When I finally got to meet A.A. Phillips, it was over a drink. The pleasure at meeting was enhanced by a child at the next table. I ribbed Arthur about this, telling him that he had sinned against the commandments of social realism. He allowed me my small victory (the story is still unpublished) and then told a number of very funny stories against himself. I knew him only slightly, but that minimal acquaintanceship showed him to be as extraordinary and as delightful in his living as he was in his writing.... (read more)
The Wheeler Centre recently hosted ‘four provocative nights’ based on the assertion that Australian criticism of film, theatre, books and the visual arts is, in its own words, ‘failing us all’. The series was entitled ‘Critical Failure’. For ABR readers unable to attend, here is one person’s account of the books-related panel.... (read more)
The Body in the Clouds, Ashley Hay’s scintillating and accomplished first novel, is in fact her fifth book, its predecessors all being non-fiction. There was the Lord Byron book, The Secret: The Strange Marriage of Annabella Milbanke and Lord Byron (2000), Gum: The story of eucalypts and their champions (2002), Herbarium (2004) and Museum: The Macleays, their collections and the search for order (2007).... (read more)