Vintage Books

A detailed timeline prefaces Fire Flood Plague. Stretching from September 2019 to September 2020, it charts events so momentous that Christos Tsiolkas describes them as being ‘imbued with an atavistic, Biblical solemnity’. Sophie Cunningham, the book’s editor, notes in her introduction that many of the contributors (herself included) have found themselves drafting their essays ‘once, twice, thrice, as we’ve progressed from bushfire and smoke-choked skies, to the early days of the pandemic … and into the exhaustion of what is becoming a marathon’.

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It is a cliché to note that Gordon Brown is an enigma as far as contemporary British politics is concerned. A fundamentally decent man of high moral standing, Brown forged with Tony Blair arguably the most successful political partnership the United Kingdom has known ... ... (read more)

For admirers of Clive James’s poetry written since he became terminally ill in 2011 (and this reviewer is certainly one), The River in the Sky will pose something of a quandary. In collections like Sentenced to Life (2015) and Injury Time (2017), the poems were generally tough, vulnerable, well-turned and ...

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I have only been to Harden-Murrumburrah once, the small town where journalist Gabrielle Chan moved in 1996, leaving the Canberra press gallery to live on a farm with her husband. It was on the way back from a football match in Cootamundra, in the middle of another grim Canberra winter ...

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Oddfellows by Nicholas Shakespeare

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March 2015, no. 369

Two aggrieved Islamic men follow a foreign cause and wage jihad on their fellow Australians. Shouting Allahu akbar, they stage an ambush, raise a home-made flag and open fire on hundreds of men, women and children. They escape and die in a final shoot-out. They leave four dead and seven wounded.

It could be ripped from today’s headlines – except it happened a hundred years ago. On New Year’s Day in 1915, Gul Mehmet and Molla Abdullah, denizens of Ghantown, the despised Afghan settlement on the outskirts of Broken Hill, took up arms against the town’s citizens as they rode the train to the annual Oddfellows picnic. They did so in the name of the Turkish Sultan, who was calling for resistance to the Anzac invaders in their home territory.

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Those who write about poetry these days don’t go in much for lightness. More often their solemnity springs from the need to score research points or from their front-line positions in gang wars. If only the verbal art could have a critic who trod as lightly as the epigrams of Laurie Duggan or the juxtapositional poems of Jennifer Maiden. But wishes are not horses, and we must be grateful for what we’ve got. Recently to hand is an agreeably jaunty book of essays from the Oxford poet John Fuller. He certainly likes to keep it light and clear: pedagogical in the gentlest way. As critic he reads hard, but writes soft: a close reader with a free rein, we might say. And he knows that any modern poem is, metaphorically, a hybrid between layered onion and head of broccoli.

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It is an eerie measure of a movie’s power when you come out at the end of it and sense, however fleetingly, that you’re still a part of its world, or that its world is all but indistinguishable from the everyday one you’ve just re-entered. German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder was grand master of this trick. His compatriot Pina Bau ...

David Golder by Irène Némirovsky & Irène Némirovsky by Jonathan Weiss

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June 2007, no. 292

When Irène Némirovsky’s Suite Française was first published in France in 2004, it created extraordinary interest for at least three reasons. Firstly, there was the story of the survival of the manuscript, preserved in an unopened suitcase for almost sixty years by Némirovsky’s daughters, Elisabeth and Denise, who had assumed that the papers in their possession were personal notes that would be too painful for them to read. Secondly, there was the documentation, provided in Myriam Anissimov’s preface and in a rich appendix, about Némirovsky’s life as an identified foreign Jew under Nazi occupation. Arrested in July 1942, interned in the Pithiviers camp, and deported almost immediately to Auschwitz, she died barely a month after her arrest, even as her husband and friends, ignorant of her fate, tried frenetically to save her. Finally, there was the novel itself, or rather, the two completed sections of what was intended to be a five-part epic narrative: a brilliantly rendered fresco of the French collapse in 1940 and the first years of German occupation, which earned Némirovsky, posthumously, the unparalleled honour of the prestigious Renaudot prize. With the English translation of the novel in 2006, she became an international celebrity. A Némirovsky biography, therefore, could hardly be more timely.

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The Summons by David Whish-Wilson

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February 2006, no. 278

The past is not dead. In fact, it’s not even past; it keeps coming back as different novels, and writers do things differently there. Nazi Germany remains history’s prime hothouse from which to procure blooms for fiction’s bouquet. All those darkly perfumed spikes – drama and tragedy intrinsic, memory within recall.

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If you can say immediately what you think a novel is ‘about’, then the chances are that it may not be a very good novel. Fiction as a genre gives writers and readers imaginative room to move, to work on a vertical axis of layers of meaning as well as along the horizontal forward movement of narrative development ...

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