Text Publishing

The note from Text’s publicist read: ‘Hope you enjoy this.’ I did. I did. (I read it twice.) The note continued: ‘There’s no other Australian novel quite like it.’ I couldn’t quite bring myself to agree with that. Garry Satherley’s (as in ‘satherley buster’, no doubt) first novel suggests, to my perhaps over-convoluted consciousness, Murray Bail’s Homesickness, Anthony Macris’ Capital: Volume 1, Glenda Adams’ Dancing on Coral and, drawing a long bow, Henry Handel Richardson. I will let Text Publishing and anyone else interested chase up the resemblances, which are casual rather than causal. That The Arch-Traitor’s Lament more pertinently suggested to me Czech novelists such as Josef Škvorecký and Ivan Klíma, for example, was a different matter, they not being Australian, and they have earned their right to their political fictions on the decks of those two dreadnoughts, hardship and censorship. That was my grumpy not-quite-convinced first reading. My second reading convinced me that Satherley was doing something quite different from the Iron Curtain callers. He was writing an Australian novel (well, he was born in New Zealand, but we are masters of ethnic appropriation across the Tasman) with European facts and fictions as pan of its subject matter.

... (read more)

Tiger’s Eye by Inga Clendinnen

by
April 2000, no. 219

Ten years ago, when she was in her early fifties, Inga Clendinnen fell ill with a disease of the liver that would have killed her if transplant surgery had not improved in time to save her life. In hospital she began to write, as much to hold herself together as for any other reason. Without a trace of self-pity she tells of the frightening first symptoms of her illness, its diagnosis and the initial gloomy prognosis, her times in hospitals, her responses to the hospital, to other patients and to that special group of ‘comrades’ who have suffered the same illness and its awesome treatment.

... (read more)

The Birth of Sydney edited by Tim Flannery & Buried Alive, Sydney 1788-92 by Jack Egan

by
April 2000, no. 219

List of essentials for a trip to Sydney in 2000: airline ticket, style-repellent, a buddy at SOCOG, rather a lot of money, and, uh-oh, excess baggage alert. I’m afraid these two big paperbacks are a must. With the Olympics looming, an outbreak of books about Sydney was inevitable. But fear not, discerning readers. Jack Egan and Tim Flannery’s tributes to Australia’s first city are not the quick-and-slick kind. Opportunistic they may be, but you can tell they’re done with love.

... (read more)

The Holocaust is a subject which numbs the mind and petrifies the soul. This is the point at which Inga Clendinnen starts her remarkable set of essays about it. The Holocaust is a Gorgon and the only way to destroy it, Perseus-like, is to hold it’s image on the screen of the shield and stare back. The historian of The Aztecs, this remarkable woman who has always attended to the inflections of human pain, says at the outset that extreme suffering should be paid attention. She has lived in interesting times without partaking of the horror and this is her amends. This remarkable exercise in metahistory, this sustained meditation about the nature of historiography – an essay in which criticism and representation keep coming together and breaking apart – began with Clendinnen’s sense of the inadequacy of her own response to the Demidenko controversy and it ends, not inappropriately, with a discussion of the relative claims of literature and historical writing in the face of the Holocaust Medusa.

... (read more)

Murray Bail has passed muster as an important Australian novelist for quite a while now.  His 1980 novel Homesickness, with its sustained parodic conceit of Australian tourists forever entering the prefab theme park, rather than its ‘real’ original, was an early national venture into what might have been postmodernism. Holden's Performance, a good time later ...

... (read more)

Nice Try by Shane Maloney

by
June 1998, no. 201

Murray Whelan – Labor Party fixer, spin doctor, branch-stacker, deal broker and, above all, true believer (his son’s middle name is Evatt) – returns for another tilt at the system in this entertaining and highly successful series. Presumably, our aptly named anti-hero was once good at his job, because these days everything he touches goes pear-shaped before you can say ‘travel rort’ or ‘credit card’. It isn’t necessarily his fault, but blame must attach somewhere in politics. Well-intentioned though he is, Murray is incurably prone to accidents and bad luck. If there is a banana skin within coo-ee, he will slip on it; if there is a dumpster in the vicinity, he will end up inside it. He is, in short, the bunny, a virtuous paragon of hapless endeavour. With Murray Whelan on the case, a policy initiative soon becomes an exercise in damage control.

... (read more)

Several books could and doubtless will be written to explore the sociological and psychological puzzles attending Helen Darville’ s remarkable masquerade. Robert Manne has no interest in the motivations of Helen Darville. His concerns are cultural and political, and therefore focus on the fictional character, Helen Demidenko: on her writings and statements, and on the responses of Australian intellectuals to those writings and statements during her brief life from 1992 to late August, 1995.

... (read more)

There is no doubt of viciousness of existence. Bertolt Brecht spoke of how one minute you are striding out freely down a merry boulevard, the next poleaxed by a great lump of steel fallen from the heavens.

... (read more)

The Stranger Inside is billed on its own front cover as ‘an erotic adventure’. The title would be considerably more innocuous if the book didn’t announce itself as erotica, but once it does, the phrase ‘the stranger inside’ suddenly becomes suggestive in the extreme. It’s a good title, partly because grammar renders it fruitfully ambiguous: apart from the obvious implication, it could also mean ‘the inner alien’ (a fragment of psychobabble, as in ‘the inner child’), or perhaps ‘the more peculiar interior’ (as in ‘my inside is stranger than yours’). Whichever way you read it inside the body, inside the book, inside the soul the phrase suggests that eroticism depends on a combination of interiority and mystery.

... (read more)

For over a decade, Peter Singer has been one of those public intellectuals we are supposed by some not to have. In the past, however, the problem with him has been that his thinking has often been about matters not seen to concern the public at large, animal liberation, for example. But events have hurried us all forward. Even a few years ago it was possible for mottoes like ‘greed is good’ or pronouncements like Mrs Thatcher’s that ‘there is no such thing as society, there are only individuals’ to seem not only provocative but hard-headed. The good life, we were, many of us, persuaded, was synonymous with goods, our heroes were experts in money-making – having and spending, ethics seemed to be a matter of preserving the appearances, not getting caught.

... (read more)