Relations between the public arena and the private are what the novel is all about. This loose, generous prose form was developed in early-modern Europe to enable a vigorous bourgeois imagination to ask the question: what is public, in fact, and what is private. If this could no longer be determined by titles and duties, properties and subservience, countesses and clowns, a kind of unrolling narrative had to evolve which was capable of asking all the psycho-political questions. And the genre has come a long way, has taken on many forms, along with many fields of information. Modern fiction is full of frisky factions.

To nobody could these reflections be more appropriate than to Frank Moorhouse. From his early chain of stories, The Americans, Baby, he has been asking awkward questions about the raw, chafed edge of public and intimate, in a shallowly modem world which calls for deep enquiry. A story like ‘Del Goes into Politics’ brings together the angry political divisions of the 1970s with a young woman’s coarsely sexual awakening. What is more, he has long been able to write un-sensationally about bisexual characters: about the secret world of the senses, to use a phrase which touches upon his Everlasting Secret Family.

From early on, Moorhouse chose to adopt a very plain prose style. He took on board the very dangerous influence of Hemingway and other American plainsmen, at best to good effect. His uninflected prose has proved to be a way of coping with the postmodern and Vietnam War years, since it can register the near-meaninglessness of daily juxtapositions; it can set the far beside the near, the political alongside the genital. It can also come up with stark near-sentences like, ‘The urge to fall into the black abyss’ or ‘But not glamorous’.


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  • Custom Article Title Chris Wallace-Crabbe reviews 'Dark Palace' by Frank Moorhouse
  • Contents Category Fiction
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    Relations between the public arena and the private are what the novel is all about. This loose, generous prose form was developed in early-modern Europe to enable a vigorous bourgeois imagination to ask the question: what is public, in fact, and what is private ...

  • Book Title Dark Palace by Frank Moorhouse
  • Book Author Frank Moorhouse
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Knopf, $39.95 hb, 678 pp, 0 091 83676 X

In this collection of more than thirty pieces of fiction, journalism, criticism, academic papers, and ephemera (acceptance speeches, parliamentary questions, university course outlines), Frank Moorhouse gives evidence of, and attempts to explain, the durability of Henry Lawson’s classic short story ‘The Drover’s Wife’ in Australian cultural life. Moorhouse’s interest encompasses not only the persistence of Lawson’s story, but also the many ways in which it has lingered by being constantly reinvented – both reverently and otherwise – to the point where he declares that it has become ‘a phenomenon unique in the Australian artistic imagination’.

Leaving aside Moorhouse’s calculated overstatement, we can accept that from its publication in 1892 ‘The Drover’s Wife’ was destined to be more than a straightforward condensation of Bulletin-era realism or a frequently anthologised utterance from Australia’s bard. Lawson’s story ticked an unreasonable number of boxes in terms of making literature from the Australian uncanny. It describes distance without end, days without change, and isolation without relief. It deals with a woman’s lot, an absent father, perishing dreams, violent death, the Indigenous ‘other’, a dog called Alligator, and the most Freudian of snakes. This is a load for any 3,000-word fiction to carry, but even today (or perhaps more so today) the reader is struck by the story’s remarkable economy. It conveys the themes with an efficiency that can seem almost inconceivable at a time when these themes come burdened with the accretion of over a century of theory, appropriation, disputation, and fashion.

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  • Custom Article Title Paul Genoni reviews 'The Drover's Wife' edited by Frank Moorhouse
  • Contents Category Literary Studies
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    In this collection of more than thirty pieces of fiction, journalism, criticism, academic papers, and ephemera (acceptance speeches, parliamentary questions, university course outlines), Frank Moorhouse gives evidence of, and attempts to explain, the durability of Henry Lawson’s classic short story ‘The Drover’s Wife’ in ...

  • Book Title The Drover's Wife
  • Book Author Frank Moorhouse
  • Author Type Editor
  • Biblio Knopf, $34.99 hb, 381 pp, 9780143784821

Operating in the shadows, security agencies usually have indifferent reputations. Their very nature prevents them from fully explaining themselves. At least some of their activities, if exposed to full scrutiny, would not enhance their reputations. There is a need for security agencies, yet the nature and scope of their role, powers, and responsibilities are contestable. In addition, the closed and secretive nature of these organisations can sit uncomfortably with the transparency and accountability which are, or should be, characteristic of liberal democratic government.

In Australia Under Surveillance, Frank Moorhouse examines the role of ASIO in Australia. The book represents more than a decade of thinking, research, and writing about national security and a lifetime of interest in ASIO. However longstanding Moorhouse’s interest in ASIO might be, ASIO’s interest in him is probably older: ASIO opened a file on Moorhouse when he was seventeen years old. That was during the Cold War. The threat posed to Australia’s national security has changed since then, from communism to Islamic fundamentalism. Whether it is a change merely to the source of the threat or whether it is genuinely different in kind, with Islamic State/ISIS/ISIL/Daesh being more serious, is debatable. Moorhouse points out that the current debates about national security emphasise the particularity of the threat posed to Western democracies by Islamic fundamentalism. It may be more useful to consider the continuity of the threats presented, on multiple fronts, over several decades, to the West.

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  • Custom Article Title David Rolph reviews 'Australia Under Surveillance' by Frank Moorhouse
  • Contents Category Politics
  • Book Title Australia Under Surveillance
  • Book Author Frank Moorhouse
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Vintage, $32.99 pb, 320 pp, 9780857985972
Friday, 25 November 2011 00:08

Open Page with Frank Moorhouse

Why do you write?

Storytelling in all its forms is one way of having something curious, strange, and comforting to say to others and ourselves when we are faced with the malaise of the real.

Are you a vivid dreamer?

Yes, hugely. But I no longer have much of a theory of dream interpretation. I do know that dreams have no place in fiction.

Where are you happiest?

At a long dinner or lunch with fine companions where anything can be said. I once said in an interview that I belonged to a think-tank called Wining and Dining.

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Admirers of the first two volumes in Frank Moorhouse’s ‘Edith Trilogy’, Grand Days (1993) and Dark Palace (2000), will remember the gripping and heartbreaking scene at the end of Dark Palace in which Edith Campbell Berry, her British husband, Ambrose, and several of their senior colleagues are humiliatingly informed, in the cruellest possible way, that after two decades of hard work for the now-defunct League of Nations, their presence is neither required nor welcome in the ranks of the new United Nations.

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  • Custom Article Title Kerryn Goldsworthy reviews 'Cold Light' by Frank Moorhouse
  • Contents Category Features
  • Book Title Cold Light
  • Book Author Frank Moorhouse
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Vintage, $32.95 pb, 736 pp, 9781741661262