Text Publishing

New Year’s Day 2002 marks the centenary of Warwick Windridge Armstrong’s Test cricket début for Australia. At the age of twenty-two, the promising all-rounder carried his bat in both innings on the Melbourne Cricket Ground against Archie MacLaren’s English side. Almost twenty years later, a much heavier and more famous Armstrong, then aged forty-one and nicknamed ‘The Big Ship’ because of his size, captained Australia for the tenth time in his fiftieth and last Test match, played at The Oval in London.

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Zach Jones’s début novel, Growing Up in Flames (Text Publishing, $19.99 pb, 288 pp), unfolds after a tragic bushfire, while an approaching bushfire stalks Carly Nugent’s protagonist Persephone in Sugar (Text Publishing, $19.99 pb, 368 pp). The only noticeable flames in Allayne Webster’s That Thing I Did (Wakefield Press, $24.95 pb, 336 pp) belong to a foul-mouthed granny named Daisy, who uses them to light her cigarettes, but Webster’s novel about an unlikely group of strangers on a madcap South Australian road trip is as poignant as it is funny.

 

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oubtless there will come a time when one’s more disciplined reading self requires nourishment from serious books that offer sustained intellectual, creative, and moral challenges. In the meantime, books – in particular the contemporary urban novel – may continue to satisfy by being charming, delightful, witty, heart-warming, hilarious, astringently refreshing, sharply observed, and deliciously original.

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Few traits typify the mythology of the Aussie bloke quite as strongly as a love of water and a laid-back attitude. Increasingly acknowledged is the role violence plays in shaping our laconic beach-lovers. Three Young Adult novels tackle this sinister undercurrent of male identity, but in different ways and to different effects. In Kate Hendrick’s Fish Out of Water (Text Publishing, $19.99 pb, 288 pp), swimmer Finn aspires to be a ‘top bloke’ like his father, but does he really? Philip Gwynne’s Taj just wants to surf, but he must deal with a foreign government intent on executing his father in The Break (Penguin Books, $19.99 pb, 384 pp). In If Not Us (Text Publishing, $19.99 pb, 272 pp), by Mark Smith, surfer Hesse is trying to save the environment but soon discovers that taking a public stand on a controversial issue can have dangerous consequences.

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The Grass Hotel by Craig Sherborne

by
April 2022, no. 441

In How Fiction Works (2008), James Wood examines how novelists write characters and allow us to sympathise with them. He refers to the philosopher Thomas Nagel’s now famous question, ‘What is it like to be a bat?’ Nagel reckoned we cannot know, can only imagine what it would be like to behave like a bat. We can’t know ‘what it is like for a bat to be a bat’.

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It’s always interesting to see biographers decide to turn the spotlight upon themselves, and to ask why. Will it be another case of ‘now it’s my turn’? The need to confess, even to enter into the Land of Too Much Information?

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When Anne Shirley dreamed of finding a ‘bosom friend’ in Avonlea, she did more than conjure Diana Barry into existence. The heroine of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables (1908) imprinted on us an almost impossible standard for what to expect from our earliest female friendships: a lifelong source of joy sustained by a mutual devotion to each other’s best interests. More often than not, however – as the popularity of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels attests – childhood friendships are as complicated as any other. And when they rupture, whether through accident, argument, or design, the aftershocks can last well into adulthood.

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The first two volumes of Helen Garner’s diaries – Yellow Notebook (2019) and One Day I’ll Remember This (2020) – cover eight years apiece. This one covers three. It is an intense, even claustrophobic story of the breakup of a marriage – a story told in the incidental, fragmentary form of a diary.

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We academic philosophers get annoyed when people suppose that the purpose of philosophy is therapeutic. But we need not deny that philosophical enquiries into the nature of mind, knowledge, and the good can be sources of personal inspiration or solace. In his earlier work, Books That Saved My Life (2018), Michael McGirr, teacher, aid worker, and former priest, explained how literature and poetry can enrich our lives. Now it’s the turn of philosophy.

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Judith Brett, historian and La Trobe University emeritus professor of politics, is characteristically direct – in her questioning, her analysis, and her engagement with readers. If there is something declarative about ‘Going Public’, the title of Doing Politics’s introductory chapter, that is exactly what Brett intends: to go public, to offer a general reader her considered reflections on Australian political and cultural life. This is not an assemblage of opinion pieces, though her writings have a related journalistic conciseness and impact – they speak to the times. What distinguishes Brett’s collection of essays is their scholarly depth and habit of enquiry. They prompt thought before they invite agreement, or conclusions. Even the bad actors, the political obstructors, the wreckers in Brett’s political analysis, are psychologically intriguing. Why are our politicians like this? What’s going on? Judith Brett studied literature and philosophy as well as politics as an undergraduate. Perhaps Hamlet drills away in her consciousness: ‘There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, / Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.’

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