Allen & Unwin

Graeme Turner reviews 'An Open Swimmer' by Tim Winton

Graeme Turner
Friday, 16 October 2020

A sympathetic reader might feel that Tim Winton, winner of The Australian/Vogel Literary Award, is a victim of one of the unkindest tricks Fate can play on a writer, with the publication of his first novel, An Open Swimmer, at the age of twenty-one. A first novel from a writer of this age is typically seen as, a ‘young man’s book’, full of the gaucheries and immaturities of the precocious, and even if a success, it is an albatross around his neck for the rest of his career. The best one can hope for is a moderate success, substantial enough to start a career, but not either brilliant enough or bad enough to determine its direction from then on. Fortunately, Tim Winton’s first novel does not neatly fit this stereotype.

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Richard Walsh – former OZ co-editor, A&R, ACP and PBL director – has proven again that he has keen eye for what fixates Australians. To be remembered is of course an enduring human obsession, while the ability to send off (or send up) a friend or family member is more often an afterthought, a stepping into the breach.

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Jane Sullivan reviews 'Max' by Alex Miller

Jane Sullivan
Thursday, 24 September 2020

When Alex Miller first thought of writing about Max Blatt, he imagined a celebration of his life. But would Max have wanted that? He was a melancholy, chainsmoking European migrant, quiet and self-effacing, who claimed nothing for himself except defeat and futility.

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Jo Case reviews 'Bluebird' by Malcolm Knox

Jo Case
Thursday, 24 September 2020

Malcolm Knox told Kill Your Darlings in 2012 that with The Life (2011), his celebrated surfing novel set on the Gold Coast, he wanted to write a historical novel about the Australian coastline and ‘that moment when one person could live right on the coast on our most treasured waterfront places, and then all of a sudden they couldn’t’. In Bluebird, set on a northern beach a ferry ride from ‘Ocean City’, this brutally undemocratic transformation is promoted from a minor theme to the engine that drives the highbrow soap-opera narrative.

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I am a great fan of archives, and so is John Fahey, a former officer of an Australian intelligence service (the Defence Signals Directorate) turned historian. His previous book, Australia’s First Spies (2018), covered the same time period (1901–50) but focused on the good guys (our spies) rather than the bad ones (their spies). His itemised list of Australian, British, and US archival files consulted runs to several pages. Most of these are the archives of intelligence agencies. And here’s the rub: intelligence files contain many names, but not necessarily the names of actual spies.

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Unsurprisingly, Australia leads the world in the production of close-grained studies of convicts sentenced to transportation. Since 1788, it’s what we do. Emma Christopher proves herself to be a crackerjack at tracking down just about anyone who ever stood before an eighteenth-century court. She reels off their crimes, social origins, associates, aliases, lovers, victims, favourite haunts and previous convictions like a bailiff of long experience. What is more, she appears to possess an encyclopedic knowledge of the alleys, lanes and bolt-holes of every city in the British Isles. So stupendous is her talent for conjuring up the atmosphere of the times that most readers will forgive her for too frequently slip ping into the archaic language of the documents she studies.

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Chris Womersley reviews 'Notorious' by Roberta Lowing

Chris Womersley
Monday, 14 September 2020

What’s not to love about Arthur Rimbaud? Having run away from his home in northern France, the outrageous and outrageously gifted teenage poet landed on the Paris doorstep of fellow poet Paul Verlaine in 1871. There, he co-opted the twenty-seven-year-old Symbolist into his artistic enterprise of ‘derangement of the senses’, which soon saw the pair embarking on a torrid affair that culminated in their fleeing to Brussels, where Verlaine shot Rimbaud (although not fatally) and was jailed.

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In some ways, John Hirst presents his tale of colonial New South Wales as if it were a book for today. In the preface he comments: ‘But why should we care what it was like? – because in many fundamentals this is the political world we still inhabit.’ This theme is sketched and hinted at several times in the text but it is never argued in a systematic and rigorous manner. What are we to make of the claim?

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Kerryn Goldsworthy reviews 'Underground' by Andrew McGahan

Kerryn Goldsworthy
Wednesday, 19 August 2020

Several years ago, on two separate occasions, Drusilla Modjeska and David Marr called for Australian fiction writers to address directly the state of the country in its post-9/11 incarnation. ‘I have a simple plea to make,’ said Marr in the Redfern Town Hall in March 2003, delivering the annual Colin Simpson Lecture: ‘that writers start focusing on what is happening in this country, looking Australia in the face, not flinching … So few Australian novels – now I take my life in my hands – address in worldly, adult ways the country and the time in which we live. It’s no good ceding that territory to people like me – to journalists. That’s not good enough.’

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What a title, and what a début novel. Jessie Tu brings us Jena Lin, a twenty-two-year-old Asian Australian sex addict who was once a violin prodigy fêted around the world. She is a character to remember. The reader knows this from the beginning, and the compelling narrative tension is driven by the slow revelation of an event that occurred seven years before the novel begins.

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