The Garden Book
Giramondo, $27.95 pb, 316 pp
These are hostile times for literary fiction in Australia. New novels are well advised to don flak, not flap, jackets. And it’s not just a simple case of critics sniping from the sidelines, wanting their piece of the action. This is a full-blown civil war involving all the vested interests – publishers, editors, journalists, publicists and booksellers – not just writers and readers. The smarting adjectival arrows continue to find their targets. Current fiction is too dreamy, starchy, inconsequential, ingrown, belletristic, portentous. While our non-fiction writers have been doing time in South American jails and running the gauntlet of spy networks, our best novelists have been tending the lily-livered genres of historical fiction and fable. Many of them have been accused of skedaddling off to the library at a time when a confrontation with the forces of xenophobia, philistinism, fogeyism and greed is more than ever required. Novel-writing, in a word (and it’s one that has been flung around with a degree of passion recently), has become ‘gutless’ storytelling.