Archive

There are a number of strands at play in this curiously titled novel set in postwar London in the Coronation year, 1953. The well-to-do Mrs Harriet Wallis, convicted of the murder of her husband, Cecil, becomes the second-last woman in England to be hanged. The last woman to be executed for murder in England was Ruth Ellis, about whom Mike Newell made the film Dance with a Stranger (1985), with Miranda Richardson as Ellis.

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Continent of Mystery, subtitled ‘A thematic history of Australian crime fiction’ is, in the most simplistic terms, a daunting and inspiring book. My Australian crime fiction, mystery and detective fiction magazine, Mean Streets, was launched by Knight towards the end of 1990, not long before his move to the United Kingdom. For better or worse upon Knight’s departure I assumed, or at least so I was told, the mantle of Australia’s expert on crime fiction. I always perceived that observation as a compliment but having read Continent of Mystery with a sense of awe I can only say that I’m not sure I’m even fit to sit at Knight’s feet when it comes to local fiction with criminality at its core.

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Elizabeth Jolley is quoted in this volume saying that ‘Writing for me is a ragged and restless activity with scattered fragments to be pieced together rather like a patchwork quilt.’ To a degree this is an apt metaphor, suggesting as it does careful attention to the particular and the gradual accumulation of the discrete parts into a whole. It also suggests the contrast between light and dark that is the feature of many quilts and of Jolley’s writing. However, patchwork is altogether too domestic an activity to contain the driving intelligence and iconoclasm that are dominant elements in Jolley’ s work.

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Christine Wallace’s book, in twelve chapters, is actually two books. Chapters 1-7 deal with Greer’s childhood and family, secondary and university education including MA and PhD theses, her sexual history and engagement with the counterculture in Britain which pivots around writing for Oz, her career as a groupie and membership of the Suck editorial team. Events are arranged chronologically but it’s often hard to work out the date (and thus Greer’s age), whether she’s in Melbourne or Sydney and, since the chapters are of very different lengths, how much has been included or omitted.

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The Atlas of Australian Birds by M. Blakers, S.J.J.F. Davies, and P.N. Reilly

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May 1985, no. 70

When I first heard of an impending Atlas of Australian Birds, my expectations were, it now seems to me, naive, showing certainly no acquaintance with the ‘birds atlas projects [which] have been developed in many other countries’ (actually, the bibliography numbers attached to this direct us to just three such projects: a use of ‘many’ learned, perhaps, from such usages as ‘this wine will improve with cellaring for many years’).

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A man waits outside a schoolyard and watches a young girl who, it seems, is his daughter, though she doesn’t know him. What appears to be an internal dialogue between the man and the child’s mother commences, set apart from the main text. It is a self-conscious narrative manoeuvre. The narrator, Jules Pyatt, after all has a thesis in English literature behind him (abandoned). He knows what narrative is all about, and he knows he wants to tell the story of his ‘Tazyrik year’, which belongs to a period several years before, when he was in his late twenties.

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‘At a crucial moment in my career, I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to take heart from the humbling serenity and unaffected craftsmanship of Michel Foucault, in what I was not to know were his last years.’ Nothing could be further from the spirit of Foucault and Literature than this tribute by eminent historian Peter Brown. During’s measure of Foucault’s contribution to literary studies is the extent to which in his writings, as in his person, ‘academic skills’ are reconciled with a ‘transgressive’ political radicalism in such a way as ‘to break down the limits of academic professionalism’. No doubt the passionate, politically engaged reflection and teaching envisaged in During’s (post-) Foucauldian programme for literary studies would leave intact the sabbatical leave arrangements upon which Brown’s and Foucault’s collaboration would have depended.

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What to Expect When You’re Expecting by Arlene Eisenberg, Heidi Eisenberg Murkoff, Sandee Eisenberg, and Hathaway R.N. & Safe and Natural Remedies for the Discomforts of Pregnancy by The Coalition for the Medical Rights of Women

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August 1987, no, 93

I thought of concealing myself behind the androgyny of my initials and writing a mean little piece about apple-pie and motherhood and pregnancy in particular. But honesty prevails and I confess to being a woman, and a pregnant one, too.

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I’m well overdue with this article, and I suspect John McLaren is never going to speak to me again. Trouble is, I’m on a frenetic reading jag and its mainly McLaren’s fault.

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In Future Active, Graham Meikle roams the electronic landscape picking out highlights and lowlights. Like all travellers, what he finds is influenced by his interests and perspectives. Sometimes this leads to illuminating insights; sometimes I marvelled at what he might have seen but didn’t.

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