ABC Books

On May Day 1955, two years after his death, a colossal memorial to Joseph Stalin was unveiled on a prominent site north of central. Towering above the city and containing 14,000 tons of granite, it was the largest statue of the dictator ever created. Stalin was depicted at the head of a representative group of citizens, dubbed by some as a bread queue. Otakar Švec, a prominent Czech sculptor, had won the commission in 1949. After the work’s stressful gestation, he killed himself shortly before the work was unveiled; there had been constant interference and police surveillance, and his wife committed suicide in 1954.

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In 1991, French sociologist Jean Baudrillard provocatively claimed that ‘the Gulf War did not take place’. His argument was not a denial of the violence, suffering, and death experienced by civilians but rather that those very realities were absent in the mediatised consumption of the conflict. Dominant discourses reproduce the key events of the age, and the distant spectator can hardly escape the saturation of simulated symbols they entail. In Baudrillard’s words, ‘the warriors bury themselves in the desert leaving only hostages to occupy the stage, including all of us as information hostages on the world media stage’.

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Alan Wearne’s The Lovemakers is a book about overdoing it. Its characters have unwise love affairs, dream foolish dreams, drink too much, engage in criminal activity, amass (and lose) vast wealth, and talk incessantly (usually about themselves). Wearne’s characters usually deal with obsession and with the places you get to in life if you overdo things. Few characters in this second part of Wearne’s epic verse novel age gracefully, and some don’t get to age at all. But The Lovemakers isn’t just about over-doing it: it performs overdoing it. Wearne’s aesthetic is one of excess, of conspicuous idiosyncrasy. Part of its excessiveness and oddity is its oxymoronic status. Wearne’s books are simultaneously poetic and prosy, realistic and outré, stylistically heterogeneous and tonally homogenous.

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ABC journalist Steven Schubert’s first book, Mandatory Murder, could have been a definitive account of the bizarre sentencing of Zak Grieve for the murder of fellow Katherine resident Ray Niceforo in October 2011. To achieve this, it had to dig deeper and cover greater territory than existing accounts, including Dan Box’s mediocre documentary, The Queen & Zak Grieve, presented in six ‘webisodes’ on The Australian’s website.

Unfortunately, Mandatory Murder’s first 273 pages are given over to a fairly standard true-crime account – complete with shocksploitative details and police-style sardonic humour – of the investigation into Niceforo’s murder and the subsequent trials of Grieve, his mate Chris Malyschko, and Chris’s mother, Bronwyn Buttery (Niceforo’s partner). A third young man, Darren Halfpenny, separately pleaded guilty to murder. Although he doesn’t need to, Schubert seems to want to amplify the shock value; we even get gruesome colour photos supplied by police. True crime is a genre that often precludes illumination of the narratives of class and trauma that propel criminality in general, and this criminality in particular.

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The Money Power: Four books on the big banks

Benjamin Huf
Wednesday, 23 October 2019

Bank bashing is an old sport in Australia, older than Federation. In 1910, when Labor became the first party to form a majority government in the new Commonwealth Parliament, they took the Money Power – banks, insurers, financiers – as their arch nemesis. With memories of the 1890s crisis of banking collapses, great strikes, and class conflict still raw, the following year the Fisher government established the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, ‘The People’s Bank’, as a state-owned trading bank offering cheap loans and government-guaranteed deposits to provide stiff competition to the greedy commercial banks gouging its customers.

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At the age of twenty, Peter Conrad slammed his Australian door shut behind him. He was travelling into the ‘wider world’, away from his native Tasmania to take up his Rhodes scholarship at Oxford; he went with barely a backwards glance. Growing up as an omnivorous reader of English literature in the years of what he has called his ‘colonial childhood’, the young Conrad had become increasingly resentful at the perverse randomness of his exile. What he could only think of as an administrative error had relegated him to an Australia that seemed vacant and vacuous. When his time came, he ruthlessly withdrew his affection from parents and country. This snake-like shedding of skin was his liberation. Crossing Waterloo Bridge in August 1968, he had – like Wordsworth before him – a moment of epiphany. As the bridge ‘ran out into the Aldwych in a sunny crux of blue dust’, the young Conrad passed innocuously through the door by which he stepped into life. In confessional mode, he later celebrated this as the exact moment of his birth. That was when the years of his Australian youth were cancelled out, relegated to a phase of mere ‘pre-existence’.

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