Archive

Slipstream by Roger McDonald

by
June 1982, no. 41

Aviation was a myth still in the making to my generation of Australian children. We cricked our necks watching a patch of sky for Amy Johnson’s arrival and, indeed, whenever an aeroplane engine was heard aloft, as if the watching itself was a necessary act of will, or prayer, to ensure the safety of those magnificent men and women whose photographs showed them always ear-muffed, be-goggled and leather-jacketed, smiling and jauntily waving thumbs up to us their earthbound worshippers.

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Of Elizabeth Jolley’s first novel, Palomino (1980), Nancy Keesing said it ‘establishes Elizabeth Jolley as absolutely one of the best writers of fiction in this country’ (ABR, March 1981). Of The Newspaper of Claremont Street, Tom Shapcott said its ‘capacity to touch the very nerve centre of human fragility, of exposing the tragedy in human needs within the small comedy of existence, is something I have not seen done with such delicate balance and precision since the ‘Pnin’ stories of Vladimir Nabakov’ (Fremantle Arts Centre Broadsheet, January-February, 1982). Sally McInerney’s judgement of The Newspaper is that ‘this slight and disturbing novel sways between socio­political allegory (about work and non­human relations) and conventional storytelling, and the two elements work against each other’ (National Times, 17–23 January, 1982). I agree with Keesing and Shapcott, but can understand why McInerney might have come to her conclusion.

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Do not attempt to judge this book by its amazingly beautiful but iconographically confusing cover. A close-up photograph of a single leaf shows its veins and pores in tiny detail. The colours are the most pastel and tender of creamy greens. Superimposed over this lush and suggestively fertile image is the book’s one-word title: Drylands ...

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The novelist’s art is wide ranging; he is concerned with a multitude of things that comprise the fabric of his book. The short story writer, however, is concerned with one thing that implies many, since singularity and intensity are the essence of his art. The best short story writers depend on a marked personal attitude and this is the distinguishing characteristic of David Martin’s second collection of stories whose common denominator is his compassionate understanding of the problems of New Australians.

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The Wheeler Centre recently hosted ‘four provocative nights’ based on the assertion that Australian criticism of film, theatre, books and the visual arts is, in its own words, ‘failing us all’. The series was entitled ‘Critical Failure’. For ABR readers unable to attend, here is one person’s account of the books-related panel.

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This republication of Susan Magarey’s 1985 biography of Catherine Helen Spence commemorates the anniversary of her death, aged eighty-five, in April 1910. In an enlarged and attractive new paperback format, with a revised introduction, its cover sketch of Spence, with upraised hand, in mid-speech, emphasises the key subject, both actual and metaphorical, of women’s public speaking. Remarkable as a writer and as a political and social reformer, Spence’s status as one of Australia’s earliest female public intellectuals is best represented in her more immediately transgressive role as public speaker, a graphic unbridling of the female voice.

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Herz Bergner arrived in Melbourne in 1938, having left Warsaw after Hitler’s rise to power. Already a published Yiddish short story writer, he joined a group of progressive Yiddish-speaking writers and thinkers who often gathered at the Kadimah Library in Carlton. As information about the Holocaust began to reach these shores, Bergner argued passionately for an increase in European immigration to Australia. He also began work on a novel in Yiddish about a boatload of Jewish refugees (and some others) adrift on the high seas, supposedly destined for Australia.

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Jessica Rudd’s fiction début, Campaign Ruby, is witty and warm-hearted chick lit set against a convincingly painted and disconcertingly prescient political backdrop.

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In his conclusion to this book, Kevin Brophy states a key principle of creative composition: ‘to be responsive to what happens, what is thrown into the mind, what one comes upon.’ This is at once a statement of advice for an artist at work, and a theoretical proposition. Through the course of the ten essays that make up the volume, Brophy develops a hypothesis about the kinds of brain function involved in creativity and, in particular, the role of consciousness in relation to other mental and sensory forms of intelligence. Without drawing the terms ‘theory’ and ‘practice’ into play – a great relief to those of us who have grown weary of that inevitable binary – he suggests that the work of an artist or writer may be facilitated by an exploratory interest in the operations of consciousness.

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Making News is Tony Wilson’s second novel for adults. It is a romp over the fertile ground of tabloid media, celebrity sports stars and family crisis. Lucas Dekker is the bookish teenage son of Charlie Dekker, a high-profile Australian soccer star who has just retired from the English Premier League. Lucas’s mother, Monica, has graduated from footballer’s wife to bestselling self-help writer, comfortably eclipsing her husband’s earning power in the process. When Lucas wins a young writer’s prize to become a columnist for tabloid daily The Globe, it seems as though he might follow in his mother’s literary footsteps.

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