Andrew Riemer

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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Andrew Riemer reviews 'Firing' by Ninette Dutton

Andrew Riemer
Wednesday, 25 March 2020

A friend of mine remembers a reception during an Adelaide Festival of the Arts. It was a large gathering: visiting musicians, singers, actors and writers, members of the Adelaide establishment, people from the university. The hosts were Ninette and Geoffrey Dutton. My friend, a visitor from Sydney, was struck by the Duttons’ confidence and sophistication. They were a handsome couple, she recalls, entirely at ease with the famous people who had come to the Festival from many parts of the world.

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I was tempted to do a wicked thing when writing about Between the Fish and the Mud Cake: to take its subjects and describe my experiences with them. So I would tell you all about my lunch with Georges Perec at the French Embassy in Canberra. What he said, and I said, and the ambassador said, and what I made of it all. The book mentions touring with Carmel Bird; I could describe my friendship with her. But Andrew Riemer is not that sort of reviewer, and his book is much too interesting in itself to be one-upped like that.

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Elizabeth Jolley’s new novel takes a leap into the past, to a large hospital in wartime England where Veronica Wright, an awkward girl just out of a Quaker boarding school, endures the discomforts and humiliations of a trainee nurse. As we have come to expect from this writer, there are all sorts of marvellous things tucked away in odd corners. Sharp observations of hospital routine – preparing bread and butter for the patients’ trays, chasing cockroaches with steel knitting-needles, shivering on night duty, and trying to keep warm in old army blankets – are mixed with passages of grotesque comedy, and with one or two memorable instances of the macabre, nowhere more effectively than in the death of a gangrene-ridden, maggot-infested patient.

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Who’s Afraid of Richard Wagner?

Andrew Riemer
Friday, 25 October 2019

Passions have always run high in the Wagner dynasty. Richard, the patriarch, waged a lifelong battle to impose his vision of a purified German art – freed of decadent foreign influences – on a sceptical, at times overtly hostile, culture. His great-grandson Gottfried, who bears a striking physical resemblance to his forebear, is equally dedicated to his mission in life: to alert the world to the intrinsic evil and pernicious influence of Wagner’s works. The cost has been considerable. As he recounts in his obsessive autobiography, The Wagner Legacy (Sanctuary Publishing, 1998 and 2000), he has been disowned by his father, Wolfgang (who has been sole Director of the Bayreuth Festival since 1966), reviled by Wagner enthusiasts in Europe and America, denied every opportunity of working in theatres and opera houses, slandered and even hounded, on occasions, by death threats. Yet, in circumstances where others might have been tempted to throw in the towel, he continues to roam the world, delivering lectures, participating in seminars and discussion- groups with a single-minded aim – to atone for the great evil his family unleashed from their stronghold in the pleasant, nondescript little town of Bayreuth, where the faithful gather each summer to worship the Master, and perhaps to remember the Master’s greatest disciple, the Führer, the intimate friend of Winifred Wagner, Gottfried’s grandmother.

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