Archive

'The tyranny of the literal' by James Ley

James Ley
Monday, 23 September 2019

For there is always going on within us a process of formulation and interpretation whose subject matter is our own selves.

These words appear towards the end of Erich Auerbach’s study of representation in Western literature, Mimesis. First published in 1946, the book has become a classic of twentieth-century literary criticism, but is almost as famous for the circumstances under which it was composed as for its content. It was written between 1942 and 1945 in Istanbul, where Auerbach, a German Jew, was living in exile.

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Critics often comment on the ‘shape’ a poem makes – not the concrete form of the words on the page, but the poem’s conceptual trajectory, the statement, development and resolution (or lack thereof) of its central theme. What is most striking about Robert Adamson’s first collection of poems published in North America, The Goldfinches of Baghdad, however, is the shape the collection makes as a whole ...

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Beverley Kingston reviews 'A History of Victoria' by Geoffrey Blainey

Beverly Kingston
Thursday, 19 September 2019

An earlier version of this history of Victoria first appeared in 1984 as Our Side of the Country. Though for the past sixteen years Sydney-born politicians Paul Keating and John Howard have usurped Victoria’s former almost constant ‘top position’ in Canberra, the possessive pride reflected in that early title still runs through this modern version ...

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Caroline Lurie reviews 'Lambs of God' by Marele Day

Caroline Lurie
Friday, 06 September 2019

Nuns supply the world with a wonderful source of all-singing, all-dancing, laughing or weeping material, from The Abbess of Crewe to A Nun’s Story, from The Sound of Music to Nunsense. Where would novelists and filmmakers be without the sisterhood? Catholic girls have strong feelings about nuns ...

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Kerryn Goldsworthy reviews 'Other People’s Words' by Hilary McPhee

Kerryn Goldsworthy
Friday, 06 September 2019

‘The characters which survive,’ wrote Hilary McPhee at seventeen in the copy of Thomas Hardy’s The Return of the Native that she studied in her tiny matriculation class at Colac High in 1958, ‘are those who make some compromise with their surroundings ...

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Joy Hooten reviews 'Spirit Wrestlers' by Thomas Shapcott

Joy Hooton
Thursday, 22 August 2019

Spirit Wrestlers takes its title from ‘Doukhobors’, the name adopted by a strict religious sect that originated in Russia and that was harshly repressed both by the tsarist state and the church. The Society of Friends, attracted by the Doukhobors’ pacifist beliefs and by their prayer meetings, which reject liturgy ...

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Gillian Dooley reviews 'Brother Fish' by Bryce Courtenay

Gillian Dooley
Thursday, 22 August 2019

What a phenomenon Bryce Courtenay is. In a world where we are constantly being told that books are on the way out, he sells them by the barrow-load. They’re big books, too. This one weighs 1.2 kilograms and is seven centimetres thick. It’s the kind of book that makes a reviewer wish she was paid ...

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Peter Porter reviews 'Typewriter Music' by David Malouf

Peter Porter
Thursday, 22 August 2019
A review is more like a conversation than an overview from an Academy, and conversations often start with a salient point leading on to judgement. I suggest readers of David Malouf’s new collection should turn straight to page twenty-five and encounter a spray of short poems, titled ‘Seven Last Words of the Emperor Hadrian’ ... ... (read more)

Much current debate on crucial issues facing Australia – the economy, race relations, foreign affairs, for example – is conducted in the opinion pages of metropolitan daily newspapers. And ‘opinion’ pages they now are – with a vengeance. It is a symptom of the times that opinion-page editors have less and less recourse to disinterested authorities ...

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In reviewing the first half of Simon Leys’s new book, The Wreck of the Batavia, I’m tempted to regurgitate my review from these pages (ABR, June–July 2002) of Mike Dash’s history of the Batavia shipwreck Batavia’s Graveyard (2002) – especially since Leys also holds that book in high regard, rendering all other histories, his own included ...

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