Viking

Susan Sontag has identified in contemporary fiction what she calls an ‘impatient, ardent and elliptical’ drive. These are features, above all, of the well-wrought story, and they are also adjectives that well describe its inherent paradox: the story is contained but somehow urgent, intensified but working in a system of concision, suggestive but employing referential exorbitance. Four pages might betoken an entire world.

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Gerald Murnane reviews 'Holden's Performance' by Murray Bail

Gerald Murnane
Friday, 20 December 2019

As I write these words, I have just read the first forty-five pages of Murray Bail’s novel. Those pages are mostly about the Shadbolt family of Adelaide.

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Terri-ann White reviews 'The Golden Dress' by Marion Halligan

Terri-ann White
Friday, 20 December 2019

Marion Halligan’s new novel has as its centrepiece, shiny and assertive, flagged by its title, a dress made with loving care but, nonetheless, improvised just so that the fabric will go far enough. A dress that Molly Pellerin wears to a party at the laundry where she works, an event that becomes a defining moment in her life, the dress a legacy, offering an image of Molly as dazzling, beautiful, and loved. The photograph sustains her memory, potently, permanently.

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Veronica Brady reviews 'The Sitters' by Alex Miller

Alex Miller
Friday, 20 December 2019

Intimacy, someone has said, is ultimately unintelligible. Yet this novel suggests that intimacy, to the self and to others, may well be all we have. Miller’s three previous novels move in a similar direction. But in them there was a good deal still of the world of the likeness, of the external world as it seems to be. The Sitters, however, is about drawing a portrait of an ‘art of misrepresentation’, which interrupts our historical consciousness and unmasks the pretentions of rationality, taking us out into the dark beyond common sense, touching something else beyond words.

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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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Judith Armstrong reviews 'Grace' by Robert Drewe

Judith Armstrong
Friday, 11 October 2019

The scope of this novel could hardly be more ambitious. It ranges from the landing ten thousand years ago of prehistoric men in primitive rafts on the shores of what would one day be known as the Kimberley, to the apparition of a young asylum seeker off a leaky, sinking boat in roughly the same locality during the present inhospitable times. In other words, it meets the challenge of major issues both immemorial and contemporary.

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Sirens wail. Families cry together. Defibrillators shock bodies into convulsion. These are the sounds and images that veteran paramedic, writer, and filmmaker Benjamin Gilmour animates in his latest book, The Gap

Gillian Dooley reviews 'Brother Fish' by Bryce Courtenay

Gillian Dooley
Thursday, 22 August 2019

What a phenomenon Bryce Courtenay is. In a world where we are constantly being told that books are on the way out, he sells them by the barrow-load. They’re big books, too. This one weighs 1.2 kilograms and is seven centimetres thick. It’s the kind of book that makes a reviewer wish she was paid ...

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Lisa Gorton reviews 'Surrender' by Sonya Hartnett

Lisa Gorton
Friday, 16 August 2019

If you are regretting the passage of another summer and feeling nostalgic about the lost freedoms of youth, Sonya Hartnett’s latest novel, Surrender, may serve as a useful tonic. In Hartnett’s world, children possess little and control less, dependent as they are on adults and on their own capacity to manipulate, or charm ...

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As W.H. Auden observed more than forty years ago: ‘To the man-in-the-street, who, I’m sorry to say, / Is a keen observer of life, / The word ‘Intellectual’ suggests straight away / A man who’s untrue to his wife.’ Perhaps such popular attitudes explain why intellectuals as politicians are rare in the bear pit of modern Australian parliaments ...

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