Archive

Dear Sir,

Laurie Muller’s reported comments on the obligations (sic) of libraries and librarians, and the state of Australian publishing (ABR, December 1985–Jan 1986) must surely invite some responses!

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The immediate virtues of this book are not difficult to see: Andrew Taylor is a skilled poet who understands the workings of syntax and rhythm, and who knows how to shape his poems into unified patterns with an apparent minimum of fuss. The poems tend to have a regular and easy pace; their fluency is considerable. Taylor writes with a genuine confidence and a literary awareness which is for the most part sophisticated and supple. His diction is uniform and he is careful not to overreach himself. There is no visible strain in the whole performance.

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This odd little book could be a worthy antipodean entry in the Bead Game, the semi-religious competitive ritual that Herman Hesse in his Magister Ludi (1945) saw steadily engrossing the high intellects of the West as we neared the year 2000 CE. Players were challenged to confront the full breadth of human culture and compose a personal Hand, a sequence of allusions to past high moments of faith, science or art, whose novel juxtaposition and hidden correspondences would both deeply inform and spiritually enrich. Because they lived impotent and dejected amid the rubble of an exhausted civilisation, Hesse’s players had no more gratifying occupation, and, of course, the introduction of new beads treating of the culture of the recent past or anything faintly contemporary was severely discouraged.

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From his first venture into print in 1923 Jack Lindsay has produced well over 150 books covering subjects as wide ranging as alchemy, ballistics, anthropology, philosophy, literary and art history, biography, and politics, as well as his own creative writings. His ‘astounding creative energy’ has deserved a large and generous book and he is well served by this collection of twenty-two essays and he is magnificently served by Bernard Smith’s editing, which, by placing the essays in illuminating sequences and juxtapositions, maps out the complexity and quality of Lindsay’s life and work. Smith’s Preface argues for the need in a volume such as this to redress the neglect in this country of Lindsay’s voluminous and wide-ranging work. The attempt deserves success.

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Have you ever noticed how otherwise intelligent journalists find it almost impossible to write seriously about Adelaide Festival’s Writers’ Week? Predictably, they seem compelled to joke about the prodigious quantity of booze consumed – but perhaps they have never attended a business or an academic convention. Then well-known visiting writers apparently must be called ‘literary lions’ – an alliterative cliché suggesting that these writers are somehow not really human. There is usually some marvelling at the miracle that for once the big names (the lions) haven’t dropped out – as though there have been no Writers’ Weeks since 1976, the last time they did drop out. And inevitably there is an awkward, giggly tone to their articles, suggesting acute discomfort or embarrassment.

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At a seminar on the arts and the economy held recently in Melbourne, Laurie Muller, general manager of the University of Queensland Press, attacked what he described as the myth of the Australian publishing industry. According to Muller, the market size for serious Australian books is so small (one to three thousand) that publishers can barely recoup their development costs, let alone make any profits to service capital and finance further books and expansion.

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Thomas Keneally’s A Family Madness attempts to get the reader in touch with life beyond the headline and the common enough family madness which irrupts the security we call home, sweet home. While each family may be unhappy in its own way, only some hit the screen or the front page, splattering their sorrow onto family breakfasts, lunches, dinners.

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The Morality of Gentlemen by Amanda Lohrey & This Freedom by John Morrison

by
December 1985–January 1986, no. 77

This fine first novel by a thirty-six-year-old Tasmanian woman was first published in 1984, but to the best of my knowledge has received only one review. Certainly, ABR missed it, and I would not have read it had it not been entered in the Vance and Nettie Palmer Victorian State Government awards for fiction. Had I been able to persuade my fellow judges of its merit, it would certainly have made the shortlist. Lohrey’s talent as a writer has finally been acknowledged in the latest issue of Scripsi, which prints an extract from the novel she is currently working on, as well as a substantial and thoughtful review by Anne Diamond.

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If we are not what we eat, and we are not, nor what we read, as we are also not, nevertheless a plate of latkes and a page of Saroyan do something to limn the portrait, as the crashing waves delineate the shoreline rock.

Naah.

Skip that.

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A colleague asked if I thought that Elizabeth Jolley’s Foxybaby might have gone ‘over the top’. I assume she meant that the book might be ‘too much’ because the function of its preoccupation with (say) crime and sex, including incest and homosexuality, was not immediately apparent. The question is a reasonable one, but for two reasons I don’t think that her latest novel does go over the top: there is no theme used or technique employed in Foxybaby which has not appeared in Jolley’s writing before; and, ad astra (perhaps per aspera or per ardua), the book represents a logical but highly imaginative development from her most recent work.

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