HarperCollins Publishers Australia

‘I wanted to give a sense of the people of the book, the different hands that had made it, used it, protected it. I wanted it to be a gripping narrative, even suspenseful.’ So says Hanna Heath, protagonist of Geraldine Brooks’s latest novel, about her search through time and place for the history of ‘the Sarajevo Haggadah’, the ‘Book’ of the title ...

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Angel Puss by Colleen McCullough

by
February 2005, no. 268

Ugh: today I realised Colleen McCullough’s latest book (her fifteenth), Angel Puss, which ABR sent to me several weeks ago, needs to be read, reviewed and dispatched by January 3. The dust jacket précis reveals that this novel is ‘exhilarating’ and ‘takes us back to 1960 and Sydney’s Kings Cross – and the story of a young woman determined to defy convention’ ...

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These three memoirs share central focus on fathers: Gaby Naher’s is a meditation on fatherhood, Shirley Painter’s is about surviving an abusive one, while Cliff Nichols’s relates his life as an alcoholic and unreliable parent. They are also all part of the current flood of life-writing appearing from Australian publishing houses. Drusilla Modjeska, writing recently about the failings of contemporary fiction, argued that creative writing courses since the 1980s have produced a spate of postmodern first novels that were ‘tricksy and insubstantial’, deconstructing narrative at the expense of well-developed plots and characters. These courses may also account for much of the current memoir boom, feeding the demands of our voyeuristic culture. But publishers have a responsibility to readers to tame the genre’s self-revelatory excesses.

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‘AT NIGHT,’ wrote Charmian Clift one summer in the late 1950s on the Greek island of Hydra where she lived with her husband and children, where the harbour village had been invaded by summer tourists, where teams of local Greek matrons invaded the kitchen in relays to monitor the foreign woman’s housework and mothering techniques ...

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The cover of David Tacey’s earlier book on Australian spirituality, Edge of the Sacred, showed a few parched branches sticking out of the sand. The cover of this one is quite different: billowing clouds, rocks, water, lilac sunset colours. You might think that a certain blossoming had taken place; that Tacey’s project – the spiritualising of ‘secular’ Australia – had been wonderfully realised. On the other hand, the luscious hues of ReEnchantment’s cover may place the book more firmly still in the realms of fantasy – a genre that also happens to be popular with Tacey’s publisher, HarperCollins.

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If Antonella Gambotto hadn’t been sued by Cliff Richard early on in her career, would she have later described Kylie Minogue as ‘a charmlessly robotic dwarf’ under the impression of being an ‘incandescent, gifted and alluring siren’? Perhaps not. It seems it was Cliff, the 50,000 pounds and the resulting barrow-loads of letters that convinced Gambotto of the value of opinion pieces: people react.

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