Archive

The appearance of a volume in the Oxford History of Australia would be an important event in its own right, but coming on the eve of the Bicentennial flood of historical publications it assumes special significance. The publishers and the general editor of the series had hoped to launch all five volumes in the series well before the market is awash with books, but this plan might now be shipwrecked on the rocks of misfortune.

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‘There are not many Australian academics whose conversation shows awareness of the main intellectual dilemmas of the age. (These are nobody’s specialty.)’ So wrote Donald Horne in The Lucky Country, yet Horne, variously academic, editor, journalist, writer, administrator, and Chair of the Australia Council, in his writing himself might be seen as a happy exception to his rule. His latest book, The Public Culture: The triumph of industrialism, continues in the tradition he established previously not only of demonstrating an awareness of intellectual and political dilemmas, but of making these the chief focus of his scholarship.

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A common approach when talking about women writers is to outline the scope of their work, preferably to demonstrate and affirm its versatility and, implicitly, its value. There’s no doubt that Helen Garner, for example, has suffered under critics’ and reviewers’ insistence that her work deals only with a ...

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A phrase like ‘And God so loved the world, she …’ has a radical impact on that most deeply ingrained convention; the contract underlying and validating much of Western culture that the logos is masculine and the power behind the logos is designated, generically, as ‘he’. Our culture is patriarchal; patriarchal power derives from God and that power is symbolically inscribed in language.

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Imagine me, myself, ten years on, a survivor of what is amusingly called ‘retirement’, though it will have been a matter of movement into rather than out of work. Let me, in short, give the four-day forecast; no weatherman will venture on the fifth, even to enforce the kind of superstition I am practising in these lines. Let us say the verbal magic works, and I reach seventy. What can I say now by way of analysing the character which I now confront in the time scale of then, across the years of future toil? Let me speak to that self in tones of restrained intimacy; restrained, because he frightens me a little.

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Reading Frank Moorhouse is a bit like learning to cook silver beet in some newfangled way and discovering that for years you’ve been chucking the best bits out.

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Boss of the Pool by Robin Klein & The Princess Who Hated It by Robin Klein

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October 1986, no. 85

I think it’s time for Robin Klein to slow down, though my ten-year-old daughter Finley wouldn’t thank me for saying so. She almost shivered with excitement last year as she told me that her teacher was reading a chapter of Hating Alison Ashley to the class each day. ‘I just can’t wait for the next bit,’ she said, ‘but I don’t want it to end.’

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Melbourne, which has somehow appropriated for itself the reputation of being the first Australian city of ‘thought’, has become the last major city in this country to host a large-scale writer’s week. Well, we now have one and it’s called the Melbourne Writers’ Festival, and it is currently being staged.

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Dreamhouse by Kate Grenville

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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.

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Jumbo by Gabrielle Lord

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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.

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