Archive

At once extravagant and tightly wrapped, this novel reinforces the view that historical fiction says as much about the present and the future as it does about the past. At the level of history proper, Anouar Benmalek’s vision unites three continents that, in the second half of the nineteenth century, are subject to the depredations of European colonialism and domestic tyranny. At the human level, his fiction is preoccupied with the bodily functions and basic needs of survival: things that never change. The broad, impersonal sweep of world history is made up of the infinitesimally small transactions of the primal scene: copulating, defecating, vomiting, bleeding, all driven by the elemental forces of fear and desire, violence and conscience.

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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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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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