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Gary Crew

Written and illustrated by Shaun Tan, The Lost Thing (2000) prompts readers to ask: ‘Who is this book for and what does it mean?’ Tan, in a personal email to the author, himself confesses that the work is a fable ‘about all sorts of social concerns with a rather ambiguous ending’, while the unnamed narrator of the story nonchalantly confesses: ‘do ...

Although Fourth Estate heralds this as Gary Crew’s first adult novel, readers who have followed his long career as a celebrated writer for young people will be aware that several of his Young Adult novels could be classified as ‘crossovers’. What defines them as such is the age and experience of their narrators: Kimmy of Angel’s Gate (1993) may be ten years old, but the story is told fifteen years later by an adult, Kim. Similarly, the teenage Sarah’s evidence indicts Mama Pratchett, but she relates the story of Mama’s Babies (1998) many years after the trial. Retrospective narration allows Crew to transcend the limitations of a youthful viewpoint and to look back upon events with mature wisdom, a technique he again employs in The Children’s Writer.

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All too few books about Australian children’s writers and writing manage to find a publisher. They’re unlikely to sell enough copies, is the standard explanation. All the more reason, therefore, to welcome an even greater rarity – a book which focuses on the work of a single writer. Even if Gary Crew might not necessarily be everyone’s first choice as the subject of such a volume, all those interested in Australian children’s literature will hope that Strange Journeys meets with a success which will encourage the publication of similar analyses of other contemporary writers’ work.

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It is the often hapless task of the reviewer to draw together observations on the aspirations and creations of up to six people into a seamless and riveting piece of critical prose. Sometimes it is just not possible, as is the case here, when all these three books have in common is that they are picture books, and will probably be found somewhere near each other in a bookshop or library.

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Nights with Grace by Rosie Scott & Strange Objects by Gary Crew

December 1990–January 1991, no. 127

My acid test of a good novel is how long the characters reverberate in the consciousness after the book has been put down. After I read both these books, I carried Grace Starr and Steven Messenger around in my head for weeks – both of them dangerous and mysterious persons, but in very different ways.

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