Archive

Richard Walsh – former OZ co-editor, A&R, ACP and PBL director – has proven again that he has keen eye for what fixates Australians. To be remembered is of course an enduring human obsession, while the ability to send off (or send up) a friend or family member is more often an afterthought, a stepping into the breach.

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It is easy to believe, in the glad confident morning of the new presidency, that not being George W. Bush will be enough: that to restore America’s place in the world, Barack Obama need only avoid the mistakes and repudiate the misdeeds of his discredited predecessor. If so, his task will be easy, and this book may help. But what if something more is needed?

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Writing novels, he’s Tom Keneally. Works of history – such as The Great Shame (1998) about the Irish diaspora to the USA and Australian in the nineteenth century, and this year’s American Scoundrel, concerned with the adventures of politician, general and amorist Dan Sickles – are by Thomas Keneally. There is more doubling in Keneally’s most recent novel, for he uses two titles. In this country, we have An Angel in Australia; in Britain, The Office of Innocence. Each suggests a different line of approach to a novel that seems in some ways old-fashioned, so instinct is it with his earlier work. By the way, Keneally’s novel count is now twenty-six, including two under the pseudonym ‘William Coyle’.

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Welcome again to Morris Lurie’s global village: Melbourne, Paris, New York, London, Tangier, Tel Aviv, Melbourne again, London. Lurie is one of our most reliable entertainers, but he is also, in the recesses of his stories, a chronicler of inner loneliness. The round world for him is signposted with stories; as one of his characters says, ‘everything is a story, or a prelude to a story, or the aftermath of one.’ The sheer variety of narrative incidents and locales in this collection is, as usual with him, impressive in itself. His characters play hard with experience in those bright or familiar places, a Tangier of easy living and surprising acquaintances, a London of the sixties fierce with contrasts. Yet finally they are always partly detached from it all and able to set themselves free, curiously able to resume the role of spectator of life. Many of Lurie’s characters give the initially disconcerting impression of possessing that ultimate detachment of a certain kind of writer, even when, as is usually the case, they are not actually cast as a writer or artist.

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Alexander Buzo reviews 'Snow Jobs' by Morris Lurie

Alexander Buzo
Friday, 02 October 2020

Collections of a writer’s pieces of journalism are usually not well reviewed. The critic is often a journalist whose pieces have not been collected and there is something about the thought of a colleague’s being paid twice that rankles. If the pieces under review are travelogues and and adventures of an enjoyable kind, then the critical appetite for blood will be doubly whetted. The thought of a colleague’s being paid twice for doing what was enjoyable in the first place will sour the critic’s aspect to the extent that his review will be an example of someone’s being paid once for doing something they didn’t enjoy – an experience that some journalists will have you believe is a universal one. (Of course, when their turn comes and a book of their critical pieces is published they go around the place becoming abashedly like a pregnant ex-nun.)

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Shirley Walker reviews 'Dove' by Barbara Hanrahan

Shirley Walker
Friday, 02 October 2020

In Dove, the familiar Barbara Hanrahan ingredients – acute realism and the fantastic, the grotesque – are combined once again to produce yet another powerful and moving novel. The scale of realism and fantasy is, as always, finely balanced. The various locations of the novel, for instance, are beautifully realised. Hanrahan has the eye of the graphic artist for the broad canvas, the sweep of light and sky, and the telling detail. Her eye ranges from the Adelaide Hills to the suburbs of ‘pebble dash and pit­tosporum’ to the Mallee: ‘an antipodean jungle of stiff splintered branches, a mysterious pearly-grey gloom’ interspersed with the ‘faraway rash of green’ that is the wheat. Yet there is more to landscape than this; place is used throughout to evoke psychic states. Appleton, for instance, suggests beatitude and primal innocence. Arden Valley the fairytale potential for the transformation of life, and the Mallee the promised land of plenteous crops and realised love.

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The decisive influence on Australian politics and culture has been the fact that our society has always included a large minority who, even if they considered themselves British, were definitely Irish and not English. The fact that this minority has been Catholic and, as a result, has felt itself discriminated against, has shaped the church into an Irish rather than a European mode, so that, as Campion points out, not only was to be Irish to be Catholic, but to be Catholic was to be Irish.

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Letters to the Editor

Thursday, 01 October 2020

Delights and jolts

Dear Editor,

ABR is always engaging, even when one disagrees with the thrust or standpoint of particular reviews, but surely the May issue is the most brilliant ever. An edition which has a poet (Peter Rose) reviewing David Malouf’s new novel, Brian Matthews on Henry Lawson, Elizabeth Webby on Xavier Herbert, and Robert Phiddian on Penny Gay’s monograph about Shakespearean comedies, has to be special, thoroughly deserving of the endorsements of literary luminaries with which ABR has promoted itself over the years. In fact, a writer who, as Dr Phiddian did, can use the phrase ‘industrial-strength literary-criticism’ in his first paragraph and one of my favourite words, ‘rebarbative’, in his second, has my unremitting admiration. And I haven’t yet mentioned the appearance of John Burnheim and Ian Britain on the Letters page.

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When I was a small boy in Hobart, my mates and I would often go down to the Tasmanian Museum after school; and one of the exhibits that interested us most was what we called ‘the human skeleton’. It stood in a glass case on the stairs, and it was only when we were older that we took in the fact that these were the remains of ‘Queen’ Trucanini, last of the Tasmanian Aborigines. There was no general notion abroad then that there was anything wrong with exhibiting these bones; but I remember a vague sense of unease – of being in the presence of something shameful. Such a sense exists in all of us; but there is no god so powerful as science in persuading men to suppress it.

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John Tranter reviews 'Desert Mother' by Philip Collier

John Tranter
Thursday, 01 October 2020

Desert Mother is a collection of poems from a West Australian writer in his late twenties who now lives in Sydney. Many of the poems in it have a double layer of nostalgia – a personal one, for a lost adolescence, and a general one for small towns left on the edge of history.

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