Historical Fiction

Australian involvement in World War I has in recent years attained a high profile in books, film and television. The trend has been to demythologise the legends of heroism and courage associated with war, and the theme often adopted is the rapid and brutal transformation from naivety to understanding of how baseless the myth was. Although this might be considered well covered ground, Geoff Page in his first novel, Benton’s Conviction, has returned to the war setting. However, because he concentrates on an aspect which hitherto has not been fully explored, and sustains the work with deft prose, Page has succeeded in producing a novel of originality and consistent interest.

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At once extravagant and tightly wrapped, this novel reinforces the view that historical fiction says as much about the present and the future as it does about the past. At the level of history proper, Anouar Benmalek’s vision unites three continents that, in the second half of the nineteenth century, are subject to the depredations of European colonialism and domestic tyranny. At the human level, his fiction is preoccupied with the bodily functions and basic needs of survival: things that never change. The broad, impersonal sweep of world history is made up of the infinitesimally small transactions of the primal scene: copulating, defecating, vomiting, bleeding, all driven by the elemental forces of fear and desire, violence and conscience.

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Jay Daniel Thompson reviews 'Midnight Empire' by Andrew Croome

Jay Daniel Thompson
Friday, 26 October 2012

Midnight Empire, the second novel by Canberra author Andrew Croome, depicts political intrigue and acts of violence that play out against the backdrop of the so-called ‘war on terror’.

The protagonist is Daniel Carter, a young Australian computer programmer who arrives in Las Vegas for business purposes. Daniel develops a taste for cards and has a ...

Gillian Dooley reviews 'The Burial' by Courtney Collins

Gillian Dooley
Tuesday, 25 September 2012

 In the cheeky biographical note on the press release for her first novel, The Burial, Courtney Collins expresses a wish that she might one day be ‘a “lady” poet’. If I had read that before reading the novel, I would have been slightly alarmed: with many notable exceptions, poets tend not to make good novelists. It is true that The Burial ...

Anthony Lynch reviews 'Dissonance' by Stephen Orr

Anthony Lynch
Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Percy Grainger has been the subject of a number of books (most notably a 1976 biography by John Bird), a play (A Whip Around for Percy Grainger, 1982) by Thérèse Radic, and a feature film, Passion (1999), by Peter Duncan. He was an avid letter-writer, and his correspondence has been anthologised and critiqued. Thanks to his eccentric way of life and sometimes erratic behavio ...

Royals, it seems, have their tenacious uses, often fictive. Contemporaries such as Alan Bennett and Edward St Aubyn have deployed them. One hundred years ago, Ford Madox Ford wrote his singular trilogy (1906–08) about Katharine Howard, The Fifth Queen of Henry VIII. Now the esteemed novelist and memoirist Hilary Mantel returns to the Tudor world, again wi ...

Deborah Burrows’s well-researched historical novel, A Stranger in My Street, begins with the protagonist, Meg Eaton, declaring that Sunday, 3 January 1943 was the day her life changed forever. We quickly learn why – the Stranger of the title has arrived in the eponymous Street.

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Francesca Sasnaitis reviews 'The Longing' by Candice Bruce

Francesca Sasnaitis
Wednesday, 21 March 2012

The Longing is an ambitious first novel. Set in the Western District of Victoria, with parallel narratives in the mid-nineteenth century and the present day, its principal theme is the occupation of Gunditjmara country by white settlers, and the decimation of Indigenous tribes. Novel writing is, of course, an act of imagination, and writers should be commended for their research, tenac ...

Judith Armstrong, a Russian and French scholar, has translated the diaries of Tolstoy’s wife, Sonya, to form the focus of her second novel. Armstrong combines an intimate knowledge of Russian literature with a close reading of the couple’s diaries to create a convincing portrait of their volatile relationship through forty-eight years of marriage.

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The historical novel has always been characterised by a formative tension – the demands of history versus the demands of story. The author is caught between relegating the past to a prettified background, or the characters to merely personified social forces. Michelle Aung Thin’s début novel tends more towards the former than the latter, illustrating both the dangers and the pleasure to be ...

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