Archive

In her interview with Candida Baker for Yacker 2, Jessica Anderson expresses her dissatisfaction with the covers of a number of her books, citing in particular the glum face on the paperback of The Impersonators and the representation of The Commandant as, in Baker’s words, ‘a Regency romance’. Anderson, who began as a commercial artist, stresses that ‘Design and presentation ... really matter. They’re the introduction to a book.’ It seems to me to be particularly unfortunate (although she may well have given it her blessing) that her new book sports a clichéd Ken Done cover. Perhaps Done’s bright colours might evoke the ‘warm zone’ of the title, although Anderson is referring to Brisbane, not Done’s mock-naïve view of Sydney. Unfortunately, the cover subliminally suggests that Anderson’s writing is sunnily comforting, easily assimilated.

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Don Anderson reviews 'I'm Dying Laughing' by Christina Stead

Don Anderson
Friday, 07 February 2020

There has been altogether too much talk recently about literature and bliss, and not enough about sadness. Think of the gloom that descends when you have read all the works of a beloved author, and no fresh fields and pastures new remain. Years ago, I suffered this depression after reading all the works of William Faulkner. There was a brief respite when Flags in the Dust, an ur-version of Sartoris, appeared, but brief it was.

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Susan Lever reviews 'Testostero' by David Foster

Susan Lever
Friday, 07 February 2020

David Foster is obsessed with opposites. He likes to play polarities of place and value against each other: in The Pure Land he contrasted Katoomba and Philadelphia, the sentimental and the intellectual; in Plumbum he put Canberra against Calcutta, the rational against the spiritual. At a talk in Canberra several years ago, he commented that it was the symmetry of the words Canberra and Calcutta that attracted him to the idea of the cities as polarities. Words themselves invite Foster to play games with meaning and suggestion, and he finds an endless source of absurdity in the gap between actuality and the words chosen to label it.

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Anne Diamond reviews 'Sister Ships' by Joan London

Anne Diamond
Friday, 07 February 2020

Fiction which is well-choreographed is difficult to resist. Joan London’s first collection of short stories, Sister Ships, is a dancerly go at mimesis; poised, unerring, it keeps its promises. And to run the tautological line between ‘literature’ and life, as all writing must, reminds us of the possibility for faux pas as well as the pas de deux; in one instance, an amnesia as to what has already been said, and in the other, stories which are so gracefully designed that they can say the same thing twice, or more, and we remember and witness such repetitions with pleasure.

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Mary Lord reviews 'Loving Daughters' by Olga Masters

Mary Lord
Friday, 07 February 2020

With her first book, the short story collection The Home Girls, Olga Masters has made her ‘own’ a particularly neglected area of Australian life and a special way of seeing it. She also became an award winner in the 1983 NBC Awards for Australian Literature. Now, with her first novel, Loving Daughters she confirms the impression that a unique voice and an important one has joined the ranks of our major storytellers. Her territory is confined to the lives of ordinary country-folk in the period between the wars, in the present work the period around the early 1920s and the place a small farming township on the south coast of New South Wales.

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Thomas Shapcott uses as a basis for his novel the fascinating life story of Karoly Pulszky, who left Hungary as the disgraced Director of the National Gallery of Art and who committed suicide after two months in Queensland. Pulszky, a forceful and flamboyant man, followed in the footsteps of his distinguished father in building up Hungary’s art collection. He was married to Emilia Markus, ‘The Blonde Wonder of Budapest, the Greatest Actress in Hungary’. Financial mismanagement enabled his family’s political enemies to bring him down and he left Hungary in shame. Years after his death, one of his two daughters, Romola, married Nijinsky, and she wrote extensively about her own colourful life. Shapcott draws on her writings with considerable skill.

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Lucy Frost reviews 'Milk' by Beverley Farmer

Lucy Frost
Friday, 07 February 2020

Greek and English, the Greek father and Australian mother, the child in the middle who looks at one object and sees different creatures – no catch-phrase like ‘culture conflict’ says much about what is happening in Ismini’s life at this moment. The story does, however, in the strong, unblinkered prose of Beverley Farmer as she writes with unfaltering sensitivity about Greece, about Australians in Greece and Greeks in Australia, and, painfully, about couples and the families who mix their cultures with their love and hate.

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John Hanrahan reviews 'Schindler’s Ark' by Thomas Keneally

John Hanrahan
Friday, 07 February 2020

Thomas Keneally excels in stories of guilt. Schindler’s Ark joins Bring Larks and Heroes and The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith as his best work so far. Organised and complacent cruelty to convicts, to blacks, to Jews grabs Keneally’s imagination to produce his most powerful novels. On one level, Schindler’s Ark is the story of a man who played the system to ensure the survival of his Jewish factory workers. On another level, it is their story, a compelling narrative of suffering and the will to survive. Fifty years after Hitler’s vaguely democratic marching to power, Keneally compels us to believe in the reality of the Holocaust. He writes of death, separation, and survival with the matter-of-fact authority of Kevin Heinz telling us how to mulch our petunias in a time of drought.

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Returning to live in Queensland seems to have done something to Thea Astley’s perception of Australian country life. In this novel, as well as in her previous one, A Kindness Cup, she gives as appalling and scathing a vision of life in rural Australia as has come from any novelist since Barbara Baynton. Although her prose is as bitingly astringent as ever in this book, it lacks the sardonic humour of her recent collection of short stories Hunting the Wild Pineapple. The pessimism and anger are almost unrelieved.

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The Story of Short Stories in Australia

Bruce Pascoe
Monday, 23 December 2019

People produce art to explain and honour the life they know, and to many the short story is a logical medium for that expression. The more futuristic art gurus, however, believe that printed pages are destined for extinction as an art form and that the short story will be first on the Dodo list.

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