Archive

Australian Literary Studies is a journal of the old school, independent of the international academic publishers that have absorbed so many others, and difficult to obtain for casual reading. It has maintained a solid reputation among scholars. From the evidence presented here, it is easy to see why.

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Even the name is confusing: think of it as Belgian Congo/Zaire/Congo DRC to avoid confusing it with the Republic of Congo/Congo Brazzaville across the river. Officially, the name is Democratic Republic of Congo – DRC – so you could roll out the usually accurate cliché that any country with ‘Democratic’ in the name definitely isn’t that. In fact, the DRC had an election a few years back which was reasonably democratic and certainly inspired an impressive voter rollout.

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On the shelves of Australia’s bookshops colonial history follows military history in popularity, though a distant second. While, say, Allen & Unwin has made brave efforts with a succession of books about the convict period – Hamish Maxwell-Stewart’s Closing Hell’s Gates (2008), Babette Smith’s Australia’s Birthstain (2008) or Grace Karskens’s The Colony (2009) – not one (not even Thomas Keneally with his Australians: Origins to Eureka, 2009) has sold as well as Robert Hughes’s The Fatal Shore (1987). Hughes spoiled the Bicentennial celebrations for a generation of scholars, piqued at such a sensational popular book, one that outsold their academic books combined.

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The pretext of this book is as simple as it is delightful. In 1982, at the ripe old age of nineteen, Sandy Mackinnon found himself on the windswept island of Iona, off the west coast of Scotland. Iona is one of those places, familiar in the world of spiritual tourism, that is layered in irony. In ancient times it became home to a community of monks, most notably St Columba, for the simple reason that nobody in his right mind would follow them there. Now, of course, it is a popular destination for those who value more than their right minds. Iona, like Santiago de Compostella, has a small but cogent literature of its own. It weaves a spell. There is very little to buy there. It creates debt in other ways.

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The Well in the Shadow, whose title is drawn from Katharine Susannah Prichard’s Coonardoo (1929), is an unconventional book, shaped entirely by Chester Eagle’s idiosyncratic responses to certain writers and their work. Eagle’s engagement with, and enthusiasm for, the texts he considers are undeniable. So too is his close knowledge of the books and writers discussed. The range of subjects is broad and reasonably inclusive, but I did wonder, given the book’s subtitle, about the absence of well-known writers such as Peter Carey, Tim Winton, David Malouf, and Christina Stead. Nonetheless, the choice is diverse.

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The title of Sarah Hopkins’s second novel, Speak to Me, is an exhortation: bridge the gap between us. It is also an expression of hope, however misguided, that such a gap can be bridged: if only we could speak, we could heal.

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This issue of open access e-journal Transnational Literature offers contributions from a 2009 symposium on migration, held in Adelaide. It is a diverse collection, appropriately so given persistent themes of dislocation, assimilation and multiculturalism. Still, perhaps diversity has its limits: the issue is burdened with Graeme Harper’s keynote symposium address, a ponderous and misplaced commentary on ‘the journey’ creative writers undertake: ‘As might already be realised, post-working can be the pre-working for future Creative Writing, and it can (and often is [sic]) emphasize the fact that creative writers are creative writers because they are actively engaged in one or more of the many acts of Creative Writing.’

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Sustenance by Simone Lazaroo

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September 2010, no. 324

Food is often used as a metaphor for a range of emotions, and this device is underscored in Simone Lazaroo’s fourth book. The title alludes to the idea of nourishment as a substitute for love, sex and religion. Indeed, the protagonist, Malaysian Perpetua de Mello, is a chef at a four-and-a-half-star Balinese tourist resort, the Elsewhere Hotel. Although the slogan in its promotional flyer encourages visitors to ‘Find yourself at Elsewhere Hotel’, most of the guests have come to lose themselves, to seek consolation from whatever ails them back home. Though undated, the novel is set soon after the bombing attacks in Bali; the tremors of the terrorist strikes still reverberate. It depicts a nervous island desperate to attract more tourists, if only to stimulate its damaged economy. There has even been a directive in the local media to smile more at foreigners.

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Katherine Gallagher, who has lived in London since the 1970s, has now published six books of poetry, all but two of them with British or American publishers. This book selects poems from her earlier books, together with twelve new poems. As a whole, it gives the sense of a writer’s development over a period of thirty-five years, with some slight shifts of style over that time.

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Bereft by Chris Womersley

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September 2010, no. 324

World War I is lodged in the minds of Australians with mythic power. Chris Womersley, in plain and startling yet tender and lyrical prose, has constructed a moving narrative that opens up the wounds of war, laying bare the events that pre-date the conflict and reach forward into the collective memory. I was reminded of A.S. Byatt’s recent novel The Children’s Book (2009), which also foregrounds in poetic language the Great War and etches forever the horror of broken bodies and minds on the consciousness of its readers.

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