Rosemary Sorensen

The kind of writing that is to be found in Ania Walwicz’s collection Boat is the kind that angers many people. Eschewing punctuation as benevolent and therefore inferior signposts to meaning, Walwicz’s prose is uncompromisingly difficult. Plot is virtually absent. Syntax defies convention. The ugly, both visually and verbally, is preferred to the beautiful.

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Barracuda by Christos Tsiolkas

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November 2013, no. 356

Rosemary Sorensen review Christos Tsolkas’s new novel, Barracuda, another bracing study of masculinity, this time focusing on an ambitious and conflicted young swimmer at a Melbourne private school.

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What can we make of the fact that, of the forty-seven stories selected by Robert Drewe for this year’s The Best Australian Stories collection, thirty-three are written in the first person? The influence of Creative Writing classes has to figure in any stab at an answer. It would be interesting to do the rounds of the universities to discover whether the teachers of such courses actively encourage the use of ‘I’, or if it happens obliquely, resulting from the way that writing exercises are structured. One wonders, too, if that old saw, ‘write what you know’, is discussed in the first week of these courses, and if such a practice contributes to the writer’s feeling more comfortable and secure when deploying the first person.

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A conversation about an anachronism led Rodney Hall to this new novel, Love without Hope. He acknowledges his wife as the person who informed him that until the 1980s there was a Department of Lunacy in New South Wales, with an asylum superintendent titled the Master of Lunacy.

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You, certainly, understand what it’s like when you know for sure, and in your heart of hearts, that there is something rotten in the State of Denmark, but every time you put up your hand to point to the rottenness it is ignored, slapped down, or obfuscated. Lying, back-stabbing, shoving one’s own snout in the trough ahead of the mob, manoeuvring to get ahead, and destroying anything that might get in the way of a march towards the one goal of MONEY – no worries. All’s fair in war and publishing. But think about the larger picture, imagine a better way, work slowly and cautiously towards change? Get with it, baby, you’ve got to be kidding, that’s just feel-good stuff, forget it.

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For some time now literary criticism has been fascinated by the role of naming, and the inscription of the name, in relation to the identity of the self. There are rich pickings to be had from examining autobiography for the way the writer reveals and hides behind the words with which a life is described. And in this era of autobiographical and biographical tumescence, it is most important that the analysis of such writing is done by those with the ability to do so. Think of the recent debates over biographies and autobiographies in Australia and you will quickly recognise how unsophisticated is our general understanding of what is going on when a life is inscribed, and yet how different the living is from the writing.

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Are you a regional writer?

I suppose I am, if your definition of a regional writer is someone who evokes atmosphere and themes which have a particular relevance for a region. Firstly, to take the most obvious thing there has always been a particular buccaneering business style, dating from the days of the goldrush of the 1890s and in various eras since, and the whole 1980s materialistic era was written even larger on the West Coast than other places. Going even further back in historical terms when you think of the peculiarities of the exploration of this coast, both by the French and the Dutch, that is something which distinguishes the West Coast. Because of my particular enthusiasm for history and research and canvassing matters of the early exploration, it is a theme which has found its way into three or four of my books.

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When I visited Bruce and Brenda Beaver in their Manly flat it was a sparkling day. The water of the Harbour was glittering, and the pines on the foreshore were stirring only slightly in the breeze. But, however soothing the weather, I was nervous. For me, Bruce Beaver is huge, a poet of the first order, and his extraordinarily difficult life, the periods of debilitating sickness and the various almost mythic stories that attach themselves to his history, all added up to make me feel very nervous indeed.

And his wife, Brenda had made it very clear that my being able to come to see him was a privilege. She protects him fiercely, with constant courage, and if I hadn’t read Bruce Beaver’s superb love poems to this woman, I would have been even more nervous when my companion and I knocked on their door.

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Ghosts by John Banville

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May 1993, no. 150

People who have read John Banville’s Book of Evidence tend to pale and take on a manic look when they’re told that there is a new Banville out. When they learn that it’s linked with that earlier book, almost a sequel, their ears pinken, their lips tremble, and, most disturbingly, their fingers begin to twitch. At this stage, the holder of an advance proof backs away, calmly, as smoothly as possible, never turning until the door is reached. Then she runs, and they’re in hot pursuit.

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Because it’s the end of the year, every Tom, Dick and Harry is trotting out the Top Books of the Year, My Favourite Summer Reading, What Book I’d Like for Christmas – good old standbys. ABR, however, is looking soberly (for the most part) at the current state of critical writing. Critics and scholars and researchers talking about theory and analysis. People engaged in the processes that help us sort through why we respond to writing in the ways we do, with joy or horror, enthusiasm or indifference.

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