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Toni Jordan’s third novel, after the successful Addition (2009), takes its story from a photograph that graces the cover and that the author tells us she pondered for a long time. It is a romantic wartime scene, a crush of bodies at a Melbourne train station, mostly with soldiers bound for their unknown futures. A woman has been lifted by a stranger on the platform so she can farewell her sweetheart. Jordan tells us the story came to her unexpectedly: ‘grand and sweeping, but also intimate and fragile.’ From this one image nine characters emerge whose lives are interconnected and whose voices will be heard individually in the ensuing nine chapters.

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In 1978 Christina Crawford published her memoir Mommie Dearest, an account of her life as the abused adoptive child of Joan Crawford. Shocking scenes in this book remain forever with readers. Sydney Smith’s account of life with her mother is, if anything, more horrific than Mommie Dearest. Traditional fairy tales often split the mother into the good mother and the bad mother, and the one in The Lost Woman is a baroque version of the bad. The memoir begins by invoking the story of Rapunzel and continues throughout the narrative to identify life’s key elements with the tropes of the folk tale. This is a story of imprisonment, escape, and transformation.

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In April 1934 sisters Mary and Elizabeth Durack joined their eldest brother, Reg, at Argyle Downs Station in the Kimberley. Mary was twenty-one, her sister eighteen. Educated at Loreto Convent in Perth, they had been reared on a diet of stories about life in the north told by their father, Michael Patrick Durack (known as ‘MPD’), when he returned from the family’s pastoral holdings every wet season to spend time with his wife and six children. Both girls had spent time up north with their parents, and loved the place. This time, however, they were on their own. At Argyle, ‘they were paid union wages for helping in the kitchen, where they learned to make bread for the homestead and for the twenty or more Aborigines on the station’, and later they took up duties at another Durack company station, Ivanhoe. They stayed up north for eighteen months, saving up for a trip to Europe, for even the Durack family fortunes had been hit by the Great Depression.

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This is the modest memoir of a remarkable man. At the age of eighty, geologist Tony Taylor travels from Sydney to Vancouver Island to meet his eight-year-old grandson Ned and take him fishing on the Cowichan River. Half a lifetime earlier, in 1968, Taylor had spent a formative two years in that wilderness. He is eager now to give his grandson the same education.

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Few writers, it could be argued, have ever cannibalised life for their art as ruthlessly and consistently as did Martin Boyd; and few are born into situations which lend themselves so readily to art. Boyd’s working life – indeed, much of his entire existence – was spent trying to unite the past with the present, the old world with the new, himself with the man he might have been; and in committing his efforts to paper. To this end, he never shirked from using friends and relatives as material for his novels, as well as the real-life experiences of himself and of others. If he paid a price for this – which he occasionally did, for people often hanker to be preserved in print, only to resent the style of preservation – the consequences gave him little pause. By the time he wrote A Difficult Young Man, focusing the cool spotlight of his attention on his brother Merric as well as more sharply on himself, Boyd had form as a writer whose true gift lay not in the power of his imagination, but in the brilliance of his ancestral inheritance.

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Romy Ash’s début novel, Floundering, sits comfortably in the realm of Australian realism. It depicts the travails of a dysfunctional and impoverished family as they make their way across the country during a scorching Australian summer. Tom and Jordy, young brothers, live with their grandparents following their abandonment by their mother, Loretta. Twelve months later Loretta returns, just as peremptorily as she left. She removes the children and heads west to a place where she hopes they will be able to live happily together.

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For some sixty years Donald Friend kept a diary, making his final entry just days before his death in 1989 at the age of seventy-four. The National Library of Australia published them in four massive volumes between 2001 and 2006. They were intractable. You needed an axe to cut through the stream of consciousness which flowed from an uncensoring pen ...

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Lloyd Jones’s Booker-shortlisted ‘breakthrough’ novel Mister Pip (2006) began life as a collection of random memories and myths written on a wall...

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The reception of SBS’s documentary Go Back to Where You Came From held out the promise that Australians’ antagonism towards asylum seekers was softening. But old certainties shift in unpredictable ways. In an essay in the September 2010 issue of The Monthly, Robert Manne, a long-standing critic of the Howard government’s asylum seeker policy, asked some uncomfortable questions of the left: Didn’t Howard’s ‘Pacific Solution’ actually work? What if the Australians who are hostile to asylum seekers can’t be dismissed as a racist redneck minority, but are instead the ‘overwhelming majority of the Australian mainstream’? What, then, of the mythical Australian values of mateship, equality, and the fair go? Arnold Zable’s latest book, Violin Lessons, situates itself within this, the most disturbing moral debate Australia has engaged in since 1992, when the Keating government introduced mandatory immigration detention.

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After her success with Addition (2008), Toni Jordan is back with a second novel, Fall Girl, an attempt, according to Jordan, to recreate on the page the romantic screen comedies of the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s...

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