Tim Bonyhady: Good Living Street

Leaving Vienna, city of windows

Evelyn Juers

 

GOOD LIVING STREET: THE FORTUNES OF MY VIENNESE FAMILY
by Tim Bonyhady
Allen & Unwin, $35 pb, 464 pp, 9781742371467

 

Would it be indulgent to invoke Leonard Cohen? It’s just that his song ‘Take This Waltz’, which begins ‘Now in Vienna there are ten pretty women’, brings to mind that city’s fin-de-siècle world. In a liquescent poetic mosaic of shoulders and thighs, lilies, hyacinths, moonshine, and dew, I see the women as if painted by Gustav Klimt – portraitist, libertine – someone who ‘climbs to your picture with a garland of freshly cut tears’. And Cohen’s Kafkaesque ‘lobby with nine hundred windows’ stirs up images of Vienna as a city of windows, of watching and being watched. The song (based on a poem by Garcia Lorca) is desirous, death-defying, incessant, sardonic. Like the narrative of Tim Bonyhady’s book, it blends individual and larger histories. We are reminded of a place and time which, for many, was both gorgeous and abject, narcissistic and melancholy. With one foot in the nineteenth century and the other in the twentieth, it was a city waltzing towards immeasurable tragedy.

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Published in June 2011 no. 332
Evelyn Juers

Evelyn Juers

Evelyn Juers is co-founder of HEAT magazine and Giramondo Publishing. She has a PhD from the University of Essex (UK) on the Brontës and the practice of biography. As an essayist, and an art and literary critic, she has contributed to a wide range of Australian and international publications. In 2009 her collective biography House of Exile won the Prime Minister’s Literary Award for non-fiction. Her essay ‘Corner of King and Queen: Sketches for the Portrait of a Recluse’ was shortlisted for the Calibre Prize, and went on to become a book, The Recluse (2011).

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