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Jane Sullivan

Jane Sullivan is a literary journalist and novelist based in Melbourne. Her latest book is a bibliomemoir, Storytime (Ventura Press, 2019).

Jane Sullivan reviews 'The Bookbinder of Jericho' by Pip Williams

May 2023, no. 453 24 April 2023
First, a confession. I am one of a tiny minority of readers who were underwhelmed by Pip Williams’s first novel, The Dictionary of Lost Words (2020). I thought it a splendid idea, one undermined by facile messages about how women’s words were ignored by the men who recorded our language and its meanings. Clearly, I was in a minority: Dictionary became an international bestseller, one of the mo ... (read more)

Jane Sullivan reviews 'Bad Art Mother' by Edwina Preston

August 2022, no. 445 28 July 2022
In 1961, Gwen Harwood submitted a sonnet to the Bulletin under the name of Walter Lehmann. Her poem, ‘Abelard to Eloisa’, held a shocking acrostic secret that many people considered very bad art. Nobody discovered the secret until after it was published. But despite her transgression, as Wikipedia puts it, ‘she found much greater acceptance’ – to the point that she is today considered on ... (read more)

Jane Sullivan reviews 'Bila Yarrudhanggalangdhuray' by Anita Heiss

June 2021, no. 432 24 May 2021
There are two famous statues in the Gundagai area. One is the Dog on the Tuckerbox. The other is of two heroes, Yarri and Jacky Jacky, who, with other Wiradjuri men, went out in their bark canoes on many exhausting and dangerous forays to rescue an estimated sixty-nine people from the Great Flood of 1852. That statue wasn’t erected until 2017, but the white settlers did show their gratitude soo ... (read more)

Jane Sullivan reviews 'With My Little Eye: The incredible true story of a family of spies in the suburbs' by Sandra Hogan

April 2021, no. 430 23 March 2021
Here’s a story about a spy with a wooden leg, another spy who liked to sit around with his penis exposed, and a spy’s daughter who spent decades refusing to believe her father was dead. If this tale of an everyday family of secret agents were a novel or a Netflix drama, we’d laugh, frown, and admire it as a surreal fantasy. But it is real, the children are still alive, and their recollection ... (read more)

Jane Sullivan reviews 'Song of the Crocodile' by Nardi Simpson

January–February 2021, no. 428 16 December 2020
When you begin to read a book about a remote town heralded by the sign ‘Darnmoor, The Gateway to Happiness’, you know it’s not going to be a happy place. The opening chapter of Nardi Simpson’s first novel describes a neat, drab town of streets with names like Grace and Hope. Under a vast cerulean sky, a whitewashed war memorial lies at its ‘bleeding and dead centre’. Outside town, a b ... (read more)

Jane Sullivan reviews 'Max' by Alex Miller

October 2020, no. 425 24 September 2020
When Alex Miller first thought of writing about Max Blatt, he imagined a celebration of his life. But would Max have wanted that? He was a melancholy, chainsmoking European migrant, quiet and self-effacing, who claimed nothing for himself except defeat and futility. Max died in 1981, but for many years he was Miller’s mentor, inspiration, and best friend. As a fledgling writer, Miller looked up ... (read more)

Jane Sullivan reviews 'Kokomo' by Victoria Hannan

August 2020, no. 423 13 July 2020
Kokomo has a startling beginning. ‘Mina knew in that moment what love is,’ goes the first sentence. She is looking at Jack’s penis, which is compared to a soldier, a ballerina, a lighthouse, and a cooee. It is also the nicest penis she has ever seen. This is writing that trembles on the edge of silliness but is saved by irony. The astute reader knows pretty well straightaway that this is no ... (read more)

Jane Sullivan reviews 'Intrépide: Australian women artists in early twentieth-century France' by Clem Gorman and Therese Gorman

June–July 2020, no. 422 27 May 2020
Art and Paris meant everything to Agnes Goodsir. ‘You must forgive my enthusiasm,’ she wrote. ‘Nothing else is of the smallest or faintest importance besides that.’ Goodsir was the Australian artist who painted the iconic portrait Girl with Cigarette, now in the Bendigo Art Gallery. It depicts a cool, sophisticated, free-spirited woman of the Parisian boulevards. When Goodsir created it, i ... (read more)

Jane Sullivan reviews 'Half Moon Lake' by Kirsten Alexander

January-February 2019, no. 408 18 December 2018
What is it that so fascinates us about lost children? Whether fact or fiction, their stories keep surfacing: Azaria Chamberlain, Jaidyn Leskie, the Beaumont children, or the schoolgirls Joan Lindsay dreamed up for her 1967 novel Picnic at Hanging Rock. Indeed, those girls have wafted through so many subsequent incarnations in books, a play, a film, and a television series that some people are conv ... (read more)

Jane Sullivan reviews 'Too Much Lip' by Melissa Lucashenko

October 2018, no. 405 25 September 2018
A stranger rides into a one-horse town on a shiny new motorbike. Cue Ennio Morricone music. Except it’s not a stranger, it’s that skinny dark girl Kerry Salter, back to say goodbye to her Pop before he falls off the perch. The first conversation she has is in the Bundjalung language (translated for our benefit) with three cheeky crows. One bites a dead snake in the head and its fangs get wedge ... (read more)
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