Archive

This is The Great Tradition. Spade, Marlowe, Archer, Spenser. Peter Corris has relocated it, given it another place and another name and done it all with verve and flair. In ten adventures, Cliff Hardy lurches around Sydney in the rusty armour of his Falcon (except on one occasion when he goes to his spiritual home, California). While Corris does not achieve as much in the short stories as he does in the novels (but then that is true of Hammett), he does present Cliff Hardy as alive (miraculously) and well (apart from batterings and hangovers) and doing good (if not entirely within the meaning of the act).

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Plumbum by David Foster

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May 1984, no. 60

After the zany energy and comic extravagance of Moonlite, the first part of David Foster’s new novel, Plumbum, is curiously sober and the comic vision subdued. In Canberra, which his characters generally regard as preposterous, The Last Great Heavy Metal Rock Band of the Western World is born, but its birth is protracted and the narrative pace is leisurely, sometimes dangerously slow. The reader is lulled, apart from the faint, nervous suspicion that the narrative might suddenly accelerate and take off. And it does, at lunatic speed in the second half of the novel, where Foster is at his fabulous best, absurdist and zany comic.

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Colonised asteroids, plentiful spaceships, an Astrogold Corporation tower approached by aircar: these are tokens of a world soothingly remote from present-day anxieties. But in Thor’s Hammer by Wynne Whiteford (Cory & Collins, 150 pp, $3.95 pb), the euphoric sense of disconnection has extended rather too far.

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First published in 1951 and again in 1959, Dal Stivens’s novel, Jimmy Brockett, is now republished as one of Penguin’s ‘Australian Selection’. Reading it, you find yourself being drawn into admiration of a man who is undeniably obnoxious.

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Eddie Leonski was a private in the United States Army who was tried and executed for strangling three women in wartime Melbourne. Barely three weeks elapsed between the first murder and Leonski’s arrest. He was executed six months later, in November 1942. There seems no doubt that Leonski committed the crimes; whether he had a fair trial is another matter.

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I would not lightly mention any writer of fiction in the same breath as John Cheever, who was one of the most remarkable and enjoyable storytellers of our times. I can’t better this short comment which says it all: ‘The Cheever corpus is magical – a mood, a vision, a tingle, all quite unexplainably achieved.’ That is from Newsweek and graces the front cover of The Stories of John Cheever (King Penguin).

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Seven Books for Grossman by Morris Lurie & Uphill Runner by James McQueen

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May 1984, no. 60

Perhaps too many relatives, constant rain, and excessive New Year celebrations have left me cranky and cheerless, but Morris Lurie’s latest novel, Seven Books for Grossman, did little to improve the general malaise. It is a slight volume. It certainly lacks the insight and compassion of some of Lurie’s short story collections like Dirty Friends. It also lacks the humour.

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Birds of Passage by Brian Castro & Getting Away With It by Kevin Brophy

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May 1984, no. 60

Brian Castro’s novel Birds of Passage is a dramatic exploration of the intriguing idea, found in Butler, Jung, and others, that an individual’s life may in some way be in touch with ancestral experience. It imagines the possibility of a previous life, its outlook on reality and rhythms of existence, flowing troublingly into the consciousness of the present. The book shared the valuable Australian Vogel Prize last year. It is of some interest, but is a distinctly uneven work. Romantic in concept in its adoption of the idea of racial memory and psychic disposition, it is sometimes sententious in tone in its reaching for poetic effect, and prone to mix its narrative modes disconcertingly. It is hard to see it as a major literary prize-winner, although some of the historical episodes in its dual narrative are nicely done and the basic idea in itself is an attractive one.

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People produce art to explain and honour the life they know, and to many the short story is a logical medium for that expression. The more futuristic art gurus, however, believe that printed pages are destined for extinction as an art form and that the short story will be first on the Dodo list.

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Ian Donaldson’s The Rapes of Lucretia is a book so rich in ideas that a review can only be unfairly perfunctory. It starts from ancient accounts of the rape of Lucretia and tracks the transformations of the myth through two millennia. This is no wearisome catalogue, no tedious grinding of PhD mills. Donaldson is, as he puts it, ‘especially interested in the close relationship that may exist between the creative and the philosophical processes of mind; between art and argument’. What emerges is a sturdy contribution to the history of ideas, a book showing how a myth which sustained Roman ideas of heroism and political liberty was used at different periods of history to reflect and embody changing political and sexual ideas.

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