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Peter Rose

Long Island by Colm Tóibín

July 2024, no. 466

Enniscorthy, a town in County Wexford, was Colm Tóibín’s birthplace in 1955. His father was a schoolteacher and local historian. Martin Tóibín died young, when Colm was twelve, an early loss explored in Tóibín’s novel Nora Webster (2014), in which the eponymous widow’s son Donal is likewise twelve and a stammerer. In 2009, Tóibín published Brooklyn, which moves between Enniscorthy and New York City. The very modesty of Tóibín’s middle-class settings and characters – their constrained lives, village absorptions, small defeats – could not obscure Tóibín’s subtle artistry or his forensic interest in psychology, especially that of his women, many of whom are so complex, so contradictory, as to make the male characters seem extraneous, unimaginative, stolid.

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Hazzard and Harrower: The letters edited by Brigitta Olubas and Susan Wyndham

June 2024, no. 465

‘Everyone allows that the talent of writing agreeable letters is peculiarly female.’ So said Jane Austen in Northanger Abbey. Even allowing for Regency hyperbole, there is some truth in the sally. We think of the inimitable letters of Emily Dickinson, who once wrote to a succinct correspondent: ‘It were dearer had you protracted it, but the Sparrow must not propound his crumb.’ In 2001, Gregory Kratzmann edited A Steady Stream of Correspondence: Selected Letters of Gwen Harwood, 1943-1995. Anyone who ever received a letter or postcard from Harwood – surely our finest letter writer – knows what an event that was. She was nonpareil: witty, astringent, frank, irrepressible. Now we have this welcome collection of letters written by Elizabeth Harrower and Shirley Hazzard (unalphabetised on the cover, in a possible concession to the expatriate Hazzard’s international fame).

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Real estate: that’s all Postumia can think about,
always bragging about her ‘portfolio’,
dragging it round like a bad painter.
At last count she owns eight flats
in suburbs she’s never visited,

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To celebrate the year’s memorable plays, films, television, music, operas, dance, and exhibitions, we invited a number of arts professionals and critics to nominate their favourites.  

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Books of the Year 2023

by Kerryn Goldsworthy et al.
December 2023, no. 460

What the authors of these three wildly different books share is a gift for creating through language a kind of intimacy of presence, as though they were in the room with you. Emily Wilson’s much-awaited translation of The Iliad (W.W. Norton & Company) is a gorgeous, hefty hardback with substantial authorial commentary that manages to be both scholarly and engaging. The poem is translated into effortless-looking blank verse that reads like music. The Running Grave (Sphere) by Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling), the seventh novel in the Cormoran Strike crime series and one of the best so far, features Rowling’s gift for the creation of memorable characters and a cracking plot about a toxic religious cult. Charlotte Wood’s Stone Yard Devotional (Allen & Unwin, reviewed in this issue of ABR) lingers in the reader’s mind, with the haunting grammar of its title, the restrained artistry of its structure, and the elusive way that it explores modes of memory, grief, and regret.

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This week’s podcast features a review from ABR Editor Peter Rose of Darryl Pinckney’s absorbing new memoir, Come Back in September: A literary education on West Sixty-Seventh Street, Manhattan. The book recounts Pinckney’s early years in New York and his unlikely friendship with Elizabeth Hardwick, the American literary critic, novelist and short-story writer.

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One hundred and seventy years after thousands of desperadoes and gold-cravers trekked to a place called Sandhurst, Wagnerites set off to Bendigo on Friday afternoon (in rather more orderly fashion it must be said, along the potholed Calder Freeway) for the opening night of Melbourne Opera’s first full production of Der Ring des Nibelungen. ... (read more)

first went to New York City in January 1975. It was wonderfully dilapidated. There was a blizzard of sorts, but I had the light jacket I had bought in Athens. If it was cold, I didn’t notice. The morning I arrived, there was a particularly gory pack murder on the subway. I read about it in the Times. So I avoided the subway and walked everywhere, through the sludge. We all knew what happened if you strayed into Central Park. Folks in Columbus, Ohio, where I had been staying with friends, had implored me not to visit New York. They couldn’t imagine why a nice young boy from somewhere called Melbourne – anarchically long hair and freakish wardrobe notwithstanding – wanted to visit that sinful city. (Still missing Nixon, they spoke of sin and sodomy.) I stayed in Midtown, in a grungy hotel soon to be demolished. The old black-and-white TV was on a constant loop, but I followed The Dick Cavett Show as best I could. The louvred door to my room cast terrifying shadows over my bed whenever anyone passed my room. Each night I dreamt that an ogre was on his way from Wall Street to stab me to death. In the morning I had breakfast for 99 cents – or, if I was hungry, $1.99. Then I didn’t eat for the rest of the day. I haunted the grand old bookshops that lined Fifth Avenue in those days. I visited the Metropolitan Museum for the warmth, but I didn’t know about the Frick. Velvet Underground wasn’t playing at the Metropolitan Opera, so I skipped that. During my stay in New York I didn’t speak to a soul, which suited me fine. It was the purpose of my visit.

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Shirley Hazzard is widely regarded as one of Australia’s finest novelists, even though she published only four novels during her long lifetime. Now, Professor Brigitta Olubas from the University of New South Wales has written the first major literary biography of the writer in Shirley Hazzard: A writing life (Virago/Farrar, Straus and Giroux). In this week’s ABR podcast, ABR Editor Peter Rose interviews Professor Olubas about her study of the ‘complex, alluring, peripatetic artist’.

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Zenith of Life 

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra
28 February 2023
The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra has a new sponsor – Ryman Healthcare. Perhaps inevitably, the gala concert that opened MSO’s 2023 season on Friday evening was titled ‘Zenith of Life’. Goodness knows we all need more healthcare – not to mention sponsors. ... (read more)