Australian Fiction

Peter Straus reviews 'Remembering Babylon' by David Malouf

Peter Straus
Wednesday, 25 November 2020

David Malouf’s Remembering Babylon is his eighth novel, his first since The Great World (1990) which won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and the Prix Femina Etranger. It is approximately two-thirds the length of that book but is longer than his first three fictions, Johnno, An Imaginary Life, and Fly Away Peter. Its length is important, as in its 200 pages it packs one of the most powerful punches to be found in any contemporary novel. Astonishingly compact and almost feverishly lucid, Remembering Babylon is a searing and startling literary parable, in my opinion destined to endure as one of Australia’s literary commandments.

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Catherine Kenneally reviews 'Remembering Babylon' by David Malouf

Catherine Kenneally
Wednesday, 25 November 2020

‘One day in the middle of the nineteenth century, when settlement in Queensland had advanced scarcely more than halfway up the coast …’ The opening lines of the novel seek to place it and us squarely in the discourse of history; to require that we lay aside the credulity with which the reader welcomes in romance and fantasy and become fellow-enquirers into the world of factual record, population figures and dates, marks on maps, important conflicts and the names of governors.

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Gillian Dooley reviews 'Matthew Flinders' Cat' by Bryce Courtenay

Gillian Dooley
Wednesday, 28 October 2020

Halfway through Matthew Flinders’ Cat, the protagonist admits that, when writing, he finds it ‘almost impossible to leave out what others might think of as superfluous detail. It was, he knew, self-indulgence.’ Is this a moment of self-directed irony on Bryce Courtenay’s part, or a case of the pot calling the kettle black? This novel brims with ‘superfluous detail’, and there is little attempt to curb the flow of information.

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Don Grant reviews 'Borderline' by Janette Turner Hospital

Don Grant
Wednesday, 28 October 2020

Janette Turner Hospital was born in Melbourne, but has lived and travelled abroad in recent years. Borderline, her third novel, is set for the most part in Boston and Montreal. It is a mystery story which contains many of the conventional ingredients of the genre: disappearances, murder and violence, mysterious messages. However, these things are subsidiary to its dominating theme which is an exploration of the nature of reality. In this it achieves mixed results, but on the whole favourable ones.

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Expatriate Australian writer and now naturalised American citizen Sumner Locke Elliott seems to have written this novel to dramatise his own sense of cultural displacement and identity. Cutting back and forth in time (between 1978 and 1950) and place (Australia and the United States), it traces the attempt of a woman named Tanya van Zandt in New York to retrace the whereabouts and identity of an Australian, Tilly Beamis, who turns out to be (it does not take the alert reader long to recognise) her actual former self.

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‘When I was eighteen my boyfriend’s father died in jail.’ This is the opening sentence of Ben Winch’s second novel; it is also the conclusion of the novel and, having got that out of the way, we can settle into the details that will tell us why this man died in jail and what his story means for this now eighteen-year-old woman.

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It is a common assumption that nothing much happens in small country towns; that they are insular places where people live their entire lives, unchallenged by the outside world. But I never found the towns I lived in to be stagnant: conservative and sometimes small-minded, yes, but never uniformly dull. Individuals and families come and go; people run away or arrive, seeking refuge; people return after years of absence to settle down again.

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Mary Lord reviews 'Across the Sea Wall' by C.J. Koch

Mary Lord
Wednesday, 28 October 2020

This is not a reissue of a novel almost twenty years old, nor is it quite a new novel: it is a heavily revised version of an early work by the author of the prize-winning novel Year of Living Dangerously. Across the Sea Wall was written before C.J. Koch was thirty. In a prefatory note to the new version he writes: ‘If such novels of youth are worth republishing, they are worth revising ... The cuts and alterations are not fundamental, but they are extensive.’ He concludes with the hope ‘that the earlier version of this work will be consigned to oblivion, and that anyone referring to the book, or quoting from it, will go to no other version but this one’.

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Book to Film

Peter Yeldham
Thursday, 22 October 2020

When the ABC asked me to adapt Roger McDonald’s novel 1915 into a major seven-part serial, I declined. Ray Alchin, producer and head of the ABC’s film studio in Sydney, looked at me with disbelief and asked me to read it again. So I read it again, twice, and thanked him for having the good sense to see its possibilities, and gratefully accepted.

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Estelle Tang reviews 'Speak to Me' by Sarah Hopkins

Estelle Tang
Saturday, 08 August 2020

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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