Penguin

J.R. Burgmann reviews 'Ghost Species' by James Bradley

J.R. Burgmann
Friday, 24 April 2020

James Bradley’s Ghost Species arrives at a time when fiction seems outpaced by the speed with which we humans are changing the planet. Alarmingly, such writerly speculation has been realised during Australia’s tragic summer, when the future finally bore down on us. And there are few writers of climate fiction – or ‘cli-fi’, the term coined by activist blogger Dan Bloom and popularised in a tweet by Margaret Atwood – who so delicately straddle the conceptual divide between present and future as Bradley.

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Starters & Writers

Mark Rubbo
Friday, 24 April 2020

Lloyd O'Neil, long-time publisher of popular Australian non-fiction, has announced that he has sold his company to Penguin. O'Neil is credited with initiating the growth of the indigenous publishing industry in the postwar period. His decision to print his books overseas in 1963 changed the whole nature of the business: ‘For the first time we could produce Australian books at a standard and price that was comparable with overseas,’ he said.

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Paul Eggert reviews 'Jimmy Brockett' by Dal Stivens

Paul Eggert
Friday, 24 April 2020

First published in 1951 and again in 1959, Dal Stivens’s novel, Jimmy Brockett, is now republished as one of Penguin’s ‘Australian Selection’. Reading it, you find yourself being drawn into admiration of a man who is undeniably obnoxious.

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If Australia during the last century was ‘no place for a nervous lady’, this collection of women’s writings edited by Lucy Frost establishes with simple eloquence that it certainly was no place for a nervous gentleman.

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What Revolution? The title’s a teaser! Echoes of Lefty/Godot? You’ll understand if I’m infected by Noel McLachlan’s prose. On page after page, sentences and semi-sentences addressing the reader informally/colloquially (even verblessly!), rich in apostrophes, italics, parentheses, sloping lines between pairs/triads, even quartets/quintets, of words, ending often with exclamation marks and (nine times on one page I’ve counted!) question marks.

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Mark Roberts reviews 'Hitting the Wall' by David Foster

Mark Roberts
Wednesday, 08 April 2020

I have often found myself feeling a little frustrated after reading a David Foster novel. While never doubting his ability as a writer, the convolutions of his narrative have, more than once, overshadowed his undeniably fine prose. His latest book, Hitting the Wall, a collection of two novellas, allows us the opportunity to examine how Foster handles the more urgent needs of this much shorter form.

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Perhaps too many relatives, constant rain, and excessive New Year celebrations have left me cranky and cheerless, but Morris Lurie’s latest novel, Seven Books for Grossman, did little to improve the general malaise. It is a slight volume. It certainly lacks the insight and compassion of some of Lurie’s short story collections like Dirty Friends. It also lacks the humour.

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Tall Poppies is an addition to the literature of ‘women of achievement’. Susan Mitchell’s slim paperback, with its pretty cover photograph of Iceland poppies, is deliberately written in a ‘simple and conversational’ style because, she says, she wants to reach ‘as many people as possible’. But her audience is women only; this is a tract for our times. The nine tape recorded interviews with ‘successful’ women set out to celebrate what they have achieved in spite of the oppression of society, and to present inspiring ‘role models’ to women who read them. One wonders whether the effect will not be daunting rather than encouraging. Mary Breasley disclaims in a foreword that ‘the whole notion of women of achievement implies elitism’; but it must. These women have been picked out. We are asked, predictably, to notice their determination and persistence; but we can’t help seeing too their exceptional energy, talent, inventiveness and flexibility. And they are successful. Quite what this means is not considered. Most of the women have well-known names, they are women who ‘have the media on their backs’, as one of them, Beatrice Faust, says. Some are ‘Top Girls’, in Caryl Churchill’s phrase: they hold top jobs in the professions. But what constitutes success in that woman’s life who chooses to devote her energies to two (or more) goals: her family and her job? Women who don’t make it to the top are not necessarily failures, as Kathleen Fitzpatrick points out in her contributions to The Half-Open Door.

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In their introduction to this collection of essays, the editors state that Australia’s war experiences in Vietnam left some lasting legacies, but ones that were either unexpected or unintended: a loss of moral authority on the part of Australian conservative governments, a breakdown in the defence and foreign policy consensus about the ‘threat’ to Australia, the revival of populist politics and resistance to conscription, and increasing resistance to orthodox political views on other issues.

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There is a lot of work still to be done on the place of the yarn in our culture. Has its pre-eminence to do with the roving outback life, with traditions of taciturnity, with an inability to cope with the size of our land? Or has it more to do with the rapid urbanisation of this country and a need to celebrate and protect myths, an abiding sense of nostalgia? Or are there more pragmatic, economic reasons – the dearth of publishing houses, the lack of a landed gentry, the impossibility of survival as a full-time writer? Whatever the cause – and speculation is interesting – there can be little argument about the fact that the yarn has a central place in our literature, whether firmly embedded in a longer novel as in Such is Life and The Wort Papers, or staring at us from literary magazines or collections of short stories.

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