Viking

There seem to be fewer post-election books doing the rounds after the 2019 federal campaign than has been the case in recent decades. Why is this? The 2019 campaign may have been achingly bland, but the result shocked pollsters, voters, and a news media that had long predicted a Labor win. Morrison’s ‘miracle’ victory is probably Australia’s most historically significant one since the last ‘unlosable’ election, back in 1993, when another cocksure opposition took its own ‘big target’ tax package to the people.

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Hazel Rowley reviews 'Fishing in the Styx' by Ruth Park

Hazel Rowley
Tuesday, 24 March 2020

I discovered Ruth Park’s Companion Guide to Sydney in a Sydney second-hand bookshop in 1980. Published in 1973, it was already out of print, probably because it evokes a Sydney that no longer existed. In the early 1970s, Park writes, ‘Sydney was beginning to pull itself to pieces, the air was full of fearful noise, the sky of dust … And the terrible sound of the rock pick tirelessly pecking away at Sydney’s sandstone foundations was over all.’

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Writing trans and gender-diverse lives

Yves Rees
Monday, 24 February 2020

Six years after the ‘transgender tipping point’ proclaimed by Time magazine in 2014, the trans and gender-diverse (TGD) community continues to surge into the spotlight. From Netflix and Neighbours to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary (which named ‘they’ its 2019 word of the year), transgender experience is enjoying well-deserved recognition and representation. Visibility, however, is not without its problems. Internationally, growing awareness has triggered an anti-trans backlash, with the TGD community becoming a conservative scapegoat du jour. The United States is experiencing a spate of anti-trans violence, while ‘bathroom bills’ proliferate in red states. In Australia, the 2016 moral panic over Safe Schools was followed in 2019 by The Australian’s anti-trans campaign (with sixty-eight articles, ninety-two per cent of them negative, published in six months), as well as the transphobic fearmongering of TERFs (trans-exclusionary radical feminists) over Victoria’s birth certificate reforms – not to mention Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s attacks on ‘gender whisperers’.

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When the Australian government urged older workers to delay retirement, some observers saw this as ‘wedge’ politics. One ageing media personality joked about younger women refusing to have babies sufficient to care for him in his dotage. For electors, the falling birth rate may be a controversial economic issue, but for some couples, and especially women, decisions about procreation are not theoretical exercises but painful personal dilemmas.

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Susan Sontag has identified in contemporary fiction what she calls an ‘impatient, ardent and elliptical’ drive. These are features, above all, of the well-wrought story, and they are also adjectives that well describe its inherent paradox: the story is contained but somehow urgent, intensified but working in a system of concision, suggestive but employing referential exorbitance. Four pages might betoken an entire world.

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Gerald Murnane reviews 'Holden's Performance' by Murray Bail

Gerald Murnane
Friday, 20 December 2019

As I write these words, I have just read the first forty-five pages of Murray Bail’s novel. Those pages are mostly about the Shadbolt family of Adelaide.

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Terri-ann White reviews 'The Golden Dress' by Marion Halligan

Terri-ann White
Friday, 20 December 2019

Marion Halligan’s new novel has as its centrepiece, shiny and assertive, flagged by its title, a dress made with loving care but, nonetheless, improvised just so that the fabric will go far enough. A dress that Molly Pellerin wears to a party at the laundry where she works, an event that becomes a defining moment in her life, the dress a legacy, offering an image of Molly as dazzling, beautiful, and loved. The photograph sustains her memory, potently, permanently.

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Veronica Brady reviews 'The Sitters' by Alex Miller

Alex Miller
Friday, 20 December 2019

Intimacy, someone has said, is ultimately unintelligible. Yet this novel suggests that intimacy, to the self and to others, may well be all we have. Miller’s three previous novels move in a similar direction. But in them there was a good deal still of the world of the likeness, of the external world as it seems to be. The Sitters, however, is about drawing a portrait of an ‘art of misrepresentation’, which interrupts our historical consciousness and unmasks the pretentions of rationality, taking us out into the dark beyond common sense, touching something else beyond words.

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Elizabeth Jolley’s new novel takes a leap into the past, to a large hospital in wartime England where Veronica Wright, an awkward girl just out of a Quaker boarding school, endures the discomforts and humiliations of a trainee nurse. As we have come to expect from this writer, there are all sorts of marvellous things tucked away in odd corners. Sharp observations of hospital routine – preparing bread and butter for the patients’ trays, chasing cockroaches with steel knitting-needles, shivering on night duty, and trying to keep warm in old army blankets – are mixed with passages of grotesque comedy, and with one or two memorable instances of the macabre, nowhere more effectively than in the death of a gangrene-ridden, maggot-infested patient.

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Judith Armstrong reviews 'Grace' by Robert Drewe

Judith Armstrong
Friday, 11 October 2019

The scope of this novel could hardly be more ambitious. It ranges from the landing ten thousand years ago of prehistoric men in primitive rafts on the shores of what would one day be known as the Kimberley, to the apparition of a young asylum seeker off a leaky, sinking boat in roughly the same locality during the present inhospitable times. In other words, it meets the challenge of major issues both immemorial and contemporary.

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