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Viking Press

For two decades of my life, I worked as a senior executive with first Rupert Murdoch and then Kerry Packer. These were challenging years, not without their hairy moments, but I always felt my best way of retaining any kind of perspective at that time was to conceive of myself as a bit player at the court of a seventeenth- or eighteenth-century monarch

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Appalling as it sounds, many of us never out-grow our childhood personae. Although people become adept at concealing their petulance and insecurities behind adult façades, among siblings and parents they revert to type, unable to resist lifelong family roles and patterns.

Kate Veitch’s first novel, Listen, is a vivid dissection of a fractured family. Forty years after a young mother of four – the unexpectedly likeable Rosemarie – has abandoned her children and husband one Christmas Eve to escape Melbourne suburbia for Swinging London, the anguish of her flight still reverberates for her children, manifesting itself in different ways. Rosemarie’s eldest daughter was effectively thrust into premature motherhood at the age of thirteen, due partly to her father’s benign neglect. Deborah resents the injustices and sacrifices of her adolescence, when she was consumed with raising her siblings. She is constantly irritable with her husband, and unable to comprehend her teenage daughter Olivia’s preference for animals to humans. Her anger drives a wedge between herself and her family.

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Elizabeth Jolley’s many admirers will be delighted with this new collection of autobiographical fragments, philosophical pieces, short fiction (some previously unpublished) and a number of rarely seen poems. It is designed, according to its editor, Caroline Lurie, to demonstrate the ways in which Jolley channelled her life story into her fiction, creating ‘something more revealing, more artistically truthful than a conventional autobiography’. Given Jolley’s age and circumstances, this collection could well contain her final comments on the writing process, as well as on the larger questions of exile, love and loneliness.

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David Lange’s autobiography was published on 1 August 2005. Twelve days later, he died in Auckland, at the age of sixty-three, after kidney failure and a long battle with amyloidosis, a rare disorder of plasma cells in the bone marrow, having been kept alive by a pacemaker, chemotherapy, peritoneal dialysis, and blood transfusions. He had been a diabetic for many years. When My Life appeared, press reports concentrated on isolated paragraphs and sentences, containing critical remarks about his former ministers, and about Bob Hawke. The book could have been dismissed as shrill vituperation, but it is far more than that. My Life is a touching, searching and reflective work, deeply analytical and self-critical. David showed great courage in completing an autobiography so close to death.

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My first thought on seeing the title was that Delaware Carpenter, the loveable ‘Professor’ in An Accommodating Spouse (1999) had made a comeback. While An Accommodating Spouse had a predominantly humorous tone, this new novel is serious. On one level, An Innocent Gentleman is a Bildungsroman for a married couple in which both need to be shaken out of their arrested development. All the usual ingredients are there: a father–son and mother–daughter conflict, an avuncular friend, an epiphanous journey from the provinces to a great city, a clash of cultures, illicit sex, the discovery of a Lebenslüge against the backdrop of World War II (the result of England’s Lebenslüge) and optimistic closure as a relationship is redefined. On another level, the novel continues to explore a familiar Jolleyesque motif: the Oedipal father–daughter and daughter–mother relationships, illustrated by the Persephone and Electra conflicts, respectively. In Jolley’s novel Foxybaby (1985), Miss Peycroft advises the novelist Miss Porch: ‘and for heaven’s sake don’t lose sight of the Oedipus and Electra complexes.’ Well, Jolley never did. They are thematic concerns in Miss Peabody’s Inheritance (1983), where the middle-aged Mr Frome marries the big-breasted Gwenda who is all of sixteen; in The Sugar Mother (1988), where Leila, another voluptuous teenager, is sold by her mother to the elderly and childless professor Edwin as a surrogate mother; and, most importantly, in My Father’s Moon (1989), which constructs a most complex Oedipal scenario that has the central character, Vera, seduce her (surrogate) father and betray her mother. In this new novel, however, those two complexes exist outside the narrative and refer to Jolley’s own troubled relationship with her mother and father.

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Eat Well and Stay Out of Jail by Leonie Stevens & Perfect Skin by Nick Earls

April 2000, no. 219

‘Look, here I am, I’m sixteen and I’m hundreds of miles from home! I want adventure! I want excitement! I want to boldly go where no Noble has gone before. Look at me! Look! Look!’ In Leonie Stevens’s Eat Well and Stay Out of Jail, Vicky Noble has left Melbourne to escape the tedium of a shelf-stacking job at the supermarket and the torment of a publicly failed romance. Vicky wants more than just to run away from her life. She craves a brand new one, preferably on the Jack Kerouac model.

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Geoffrey Dutton will not concentrate. Information relevant to his subject reminds him of other titbits, as in this cascade of irrelevancies:

McKee Wright deserves the credit for having first published Slessor, and he published a remarkable number of women poets. However, some of his favourites amongst the latter might have been better left in obscurity. Marie E.J. Pitt, for example, in the issue for 10 July 1919:

Oh, take me, take me, little wind that blows
Ere the young moon
Blossoms in heaven like a mystic rose,
And the stars swoon
Down languorous aisles of Night’s enchanted noon!

(‘Noon’ for ‘midnight’, incidentally, is the old usage sanctified by Tennyson: ‘Night hath climbed her peak of highest noon.’)

For a biography of Slessor, Dutton should have made the first comma a full stop, unless the point was to let us know that Dutton knows his Tennyson.

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One of the truly astonishing accounts to emerge in Munster’s account concerns another US president, John F. Kennedy, whose press secretary, Pierre Salinger, forged a cable in Murdoch’s name to kill a Murdoch report of an off-the-record talk he had with the president. The cable, sent through State Department channels, was signed ‘Murdoch’.

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Before I came across this attractive and instructive book, I knew very little of the art of Sam Byrne, thinking of him merely as one of a group of outback ‘primitives’ based on Broken Hill, the Silver City, of whom the best known is Pro Hart.

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Archimedes and the Seagle by David Ireland & Jane Austen in Australia by Barbara Ker Wilson

October 1984, no. 65

‘I wrote this book to show what dogs can do’, writes Archimedes the red setter in the preface to his book, and what follows are the experiences, observations, and reflections of a dog both ordinary and extraordinary. Archimedes’ physical life is constrained by his ‘employment’ with the Guests, an average Sydney suburban family – father, mother, and three children. He is taken for walks – the dog laws make unaccompanied walks too dangerous, he leaves his ‘messages’ in appropriate places, he knows the electricity poles intimately, and the dogs in his territory, Lazy Bill, Princess, Old Sorrowful Eyes, and Victor the bulldog.

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