Archive

Dreamhouse by Kate Grenville

by
October 1986, no. 85

Dreamhouse, written before the wonderful Lilian’s Story (1984 Vogel winner), was the Vogel runner-up in 1983. Kate Grenville’s writing in this novel is clear-headed, strong, both witty and humorous, and above all lifts the imagination high. Dreamhouse wins my ‘Chortle, Gasp’ Prize for black comedy incorporating a design award for ‘best romantic fiction parody’ (it could have been called A Summer in Tuscany). It’s a darkly delightful book to read. Subversion of romantic expectations is immediate, ingenious, and horribly funny. Louise Dufrey is one half of an unlovely couple whose marriage looks perfect but is actually defunct.

... (read more)

Jumbo by Gabrielle Lord

by
October 1986, no. 85

Gabrielle Lord’s novels – Fortress, Tooth and Claw and now, Jumbo, are all topical, readable, and (I expect) highly marketable. Lord is a scriptwriter as well as a novelist and each of these books seems like a transit point between a great idea and the kind of film which makes you lean forward in your seat and temporarily abandon regular breathing. There is, however, much to be said for them, as novels. They are thrillers, but they are not merely escapist. The plots dislocate everyday events in a way which questions the validity of what passes as socially acceptable. On the other hand, pace, suspense, and social critique seem to substitute for the subtlety and detail which would transform these books into something more than temporarily exciting and even instructive reading experiences. For all the immediacy and significance of Lord’s novels, the vibrancy of her work often seems to me to lie in its potential, rather than in the text at hand. In this respect Jumbo, the most recent novel, does not surpass its predecessors.

... (read more)

Professor Hassall’s study of Randolph Stow is indeed a strange country. A text which sets out to establish Stow as ‘a more important writer than is generally recognized’ and to show that his ‘best work bears comparison with Patrick White’s’ promises an intellectual engagement with either critics or the text or both which would lead to reassessment of Stow’s work. It appears that these are Aunt Sally’s – although Professor Leonie Kramer, who is presented as one of Stow’s ‘sterner “realist” critics’, can hardly be seen as such an aunt. Hassall puts her up but barely touches her, leaving the counterargument to Dorothy Green. Perhaps he’s being gentlemanly. However, to quote a paragraph from Green which asserts that ‘One of the greatest weaknesses of Australian criticism has always been its refusal to take religious ideas seriously’ is to take advantage of the lady. Hassall needs to fight his own battle against Leonie Kramer’s judgement of Stow’s work as being ‘quasi-religious’ and misguidedly experimental.

... (read more)

Reading Kevin Child’s book, Men on Women, creates the irresistible temptation to answer on behalf of the women. I can imagine them offering the following kind of replies to their sons and lovers.

... (read more)

In one of the more matter-of-fact paragraphs of that rare and sentient book, Celebration of the Senses, Eric Rolls reflects on how ‘until the nineteen-fifties eating was seldom an adventure in Australia’. The Greek community had taken over the country town cafes and ‘by serving food that was a parody of the worst Australian food they prospered astoundingly. Slabs of steak fried ten minutes too long came to the table with one or two eggs on top, and surrounded by potato chips, mashed potato, mashed pumpkin, sliced lettuce, tomato, canned carrots, pickled beetroot …

... (read more)

Dear Editor,

That twice but incompletely published review of mine of recent architectural books continues to cause trouble for all concerned. Noting the letter (ABR, August) from the Townsville City Council, I’m delighted to learn of their concern for the preservation of old buildings, and fully understand their distress at being misrepresented by me. As they have magnanimously conceded, I was merely working with ‘facts’ found in the books under review. I therefore gladly volunteer my apologies to the Townsville City Council.

... (read more)

Peter Cowan’s new novel The Color of the Sky is an elliptical, even enigmatic, narrative. Although specifically labelled a ‘novel’, it is a novella in its concision pf narrative explanation; as well as in its length. The layers of event and reminiscence are multifarious enough to fill out a hefty tome but are compressed in such a way that they become almost cryptic messages requiring considerable deciphering on the part of the reader.

... (read more)

Malcolm Fraser On Australia edited by D.M. White and D.A. Kemp

by
September 1986, no. 84

There have been two major cycles in Australian political rhetoric since the war. The first occurred during the postwar reconstruction period, from 1943 until 1949, when contest over a new social order impelled an unusually clear articulation of philosophy and policies by the contenders for influence – represented in public debate by Curtin and Chifley on one hand, and Menzies on the other. The eventual ascendance of Menzies and the dominant ideas that emerged from that debate informed our political life for the next two decades. Not until the late 1960s, when the Liberal-Country Party coalition’s grasp of events slipped, and when the new problems of the modem world economic system and Australia’s precarious place within it dislodged the assumptions engendered in the 1940s, did the debate about the nature of our policy gain a new edge.

... (read more)

The more I think about it the more I am convinced that Ken Goodwin must have found this a brute of a book to write. Not that difficulties are apparent in the writing. Far from it. It is simply that, in looking at it from a reviewer’s point of view, I am increasingly aware of the constraints under that the author must have suffered while managing to produce a book which the general reader and the interested undergraduate will find both interesting and useful.

... (read more)

Dear Editor,

I was surprised, on reading the August Issue of ABR, to find no comment or tribute to the former editor, John McLaren. I understand too well the pressure of deadlines and have no doubt that ABR will, at some future date, provide a fitting tribute to its former editor.

In the meantime, I would be grateful if you would publish my own small and inadequate tribute.

... (read more)