Brenda Niall

Brenda Niall

Brenda Niall’s writing career began during her time as an academic at Monash University, where she was Reader in the Department of English. Since 1995 she has been writing full time. Her books include award-winning biographies Martin Boyd: A Life (1988), Georgiana (1995), The Boyds (2002), Judy Cassab (2005), and a memoir, Life Class (2007). Her book The Riddle of Father Hackett was shortlisted for the 2010 Magarey Medal for Biography. She is a frequent reviewer for The Age and ABR, and has been a guest at the Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, Brisbane, and Byron Bay literary festivals. In 2004 she was awarded an AO for services to Australian Literature. Her most recent books are My Accidental Career (2022), Can You Hear the Sea? My grandmother's story (2018) and  Friends and Rivals: Ethel Turner, Barbara Baynton, Henry Handel Richardson and Nettie Palmer (2020). 

Brenda Niall reviews 'Mrs Osmond' by John Banville

January–February 2018, no. 398 20 December 2017
Brenda Niall reviews 'Mrs Osmond' by John Banville
The last page of Henry James’s Portrait of a Lady (1881) leaves its heroine, Isabel Osmond, with an ambiguous choice. To go back into the cage of her wretched marriage might be an exercise of will for duty’s sake, or an evasion, based on fear. Readers have been disputing Isabel’s motives ever since her creator so provokingly left the door ajar. Now, distinguished Irish novelist John Banville ... (read more)

Brenda Niall reviews 'A Life of My Own' by Claire Tomalin

January–February 2018, no. 398 19 December 2017
Brenda Niall reviews 'A Life of My Own' by Claire Tomalin
When a biographer tells her own story, the rules change. Because the subject is the self, the problem is not so much a search for the unknown, but what to tell about the known and how to tell it. One of Britain’s finest biographers, Claire Tomalin, has spoken of her pleasure in ‘investigating’ other people’s lives. What happens when she turns to her own life? What will be told and what wit ... (read more)

‘Penny from heaven’

March 2014, no. 359 26 February 2014
‘Penny from heaven’
‘I’m sorry I’m late, but my house sank.’ That’s Penelope Fitzgerald, apologising to her students. The leaky, rat-infested barge on which she and her family had been living on the Thames near Chelsea had gone down, taking all their possessions with it. With such treasures of understated tragicomedy already known to her, Hermione Lee set out to discover the subtle, elusive novelist who wa ... (read more)

'Ettie and Nettie: When Nettie Palmer visited Henry Handel Richardson' by Brenda Niall

February 2013, no. 348 01 February 2013
It is a brilliant summer day in July 1935. The scene is a house called Green Ridges, near Hastings, Sussex. Two women, seated but not relaxed, face each other across a formal drawing room. This is the first time they have met. Nettie Palmer, Australian writer and journalist, has come to stay overnight with the novelist Henry Handel Richardson. As novelist and journalist they know one another’s ... (read more)

Brenda Niall reviews 'University Unlimited: the Monash Story' by Graeme Davison and Kate Murphy

June 2012, no. 342 24 May 2012
Brenda Niall reviews 'University Unlimited: the Monash Story' by Graeme Davison and Kate Murphy
For a young academic in need of a job, 1964 was a lucky time. After three pioneering years with small enrolments, Monash University was bracing itself for the first big influx of postwar baby boomers. Above the flat and muddy stretches of Clayton farmland, where Wellington boots had been the footwear of choice, the first tall buildings were emerging. The Arts wing of the twelve-storey Robert Menzi ... (read more)

Brenda Niall reviews 'A Man of Parts' by David Lodge

July–August 2011, no. 333 29 June 2011
Nearly seven years ago, David Lodge had the bad luck to collide with Colm Tóibín when both writers produced a novel about Henry James. Tóibín was the first to publish; his work The Master (2004) won high praise and a Booker Prize nomination. Lodge’s Author, Author (2004), trailing six months behind, suffered in the inevitable comparisons. There had been plenty of excitement about the idea of ... (read more)

Brenda Niall reviews 'Blue Skies' by Helen Hodgman

April 2011, no. 330 24 March 2011
With its witty cover, showing an overturned pram, Blue Skies places itself in the era of The Female Eunuch (1971) and adds a Gothic horror touch. Written by expatriate Australian author Helen Hodgman, and published to critical acclaim and literary awards in London in 1976, Blue Skies has been rediscovered by Text Publishing’s enterprising sleuths. As with the similarly reclaimed novels of Madele ... (read more)
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