Judith Armstrong

Dymphna by Judith Armstrong

March 2017, no. 389

In the summer of 1988 I was part of an Adelaide Writers Week symposium on biography, the stars of which were two justly famous and accomplished biographers – Victoria Glendinning and Andrew Motion.  I described that occasion at the time, like this:

I greatly admired Motion’s panache. As we ascended the podium to begin the se ...

Patti Miller has written four books of or about memoir, one of which, The Mind of a Thief (UQP, 2012) won the New South Wales Premier’s History Award, and she has taught life writing for more than twenty years. Yet her most recent publication, Ransacking Paris, while enjoyable at one level, is disappointing at another. There is a serious mismatch bet ...

Marion Halligan is a prolific writer, and this is not the first time I have reviewed one of her books. Once, when she branched out into the genre of lightweight crime – The Apricot Colonel (2006) and Murder on the Apricot Coast (2008) – I commented on the problem faced by Cassandra, the novel’s narrator. An editor-turned-author, she turns out boo ...

The nub of this first novel is a good one. Even those who weren’t alive in the early 1950s will have heard of Joseph McCarthy. Fired by the tensions of the Cold War but with scant regard for hard evidence, the US Republican senator made his reputation by accusing numerous individuals of communist sympathies, possible disloyalty, and/or treason. Intellectuals of ev ...

The 2012 centenary of the dramatic Scott–Amundsen race to reach the South Pole prompted several new non-fiction books on Antarctica. No fewer than five of them were reviewed in the December–January edition of London’s Literary Review, a welcome reminder of the superb Ferocious Summer (Profile Books, 2007) by Australian author Meredith Hooper, whi ...

Judith Armstrong, a Russian and French scholar, has translated the diaries of Tolstoy’s wife, Sonya, to form the focus of her second novel. Armstrong combines an intimate knowledge of Russian literature with a close reading of the couple’s diaries to create a convincing portrait of their volatile relationship through forty-eight years of marriage.

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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 is a book of rather brief short stories, few of which exceed a dozen pages. This leaves room for nineteen stories in a fairly short collection. Most of them read easily, each one effortlessly displacing its predecessor. There are, of course, standouts, to which I shall return, but the most striking overall characteristic is the distinctively personalised tone. The wide variety of personae ...

From a clutch of novels including the award-winning Camille’s Bread (1996), Amanda Lohrey has now turned to shorter literary forms, notably two Quarterly Essays (2002, 2006), a novella (Vertigo, 2008) and this new collection of short stories. At the 2009 Sydney Writers’ Festival she publicly confessed her new leaning, arguing the benefits of genres more easily completed by both writer and reader and less likely to produce guilt if cast aside unfinished.

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Let no one say that all travel memoirs fall into the same predictable box. Otherland and Mother Land, two such works from Melbourne writers, may enjoy rhyming titles and pluck similar strings, but their styles could hardly be more dissimilar. The first, a new book from Maria Tumarkin, describes a journey to her Ukrainian/ Russian country of birth with her twelve-year-old daughter in tow; the second, a 2008 evocation by Dmetri Kakmi, follows a revisiting of his childhood on a Turkish-Greek island. Of it I wrote in The Age: ‘Always a beautiful, evocative and carefully crafted reconstruction of a past life generically familiar to many migrants, Mother Land outshines the plethora of similar memoirs because it consciously operates at two levels: the narrow focus, limited characters and humdrum events are transcended and elevated to a universal myth of loss’ (16 August 2008).

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