Gillian Dooley

I have often thought that a large part of achievement is just fronting up; having an idea and acting on it, however unlikely success might seem. What you need is a resolution (or the disposition) not to be discouraged by failure and to be pleasantly surprised by success. If it doesn’t work, you try something else. You make the most of any opportunity. You sh ...

The depredations of time on the ageing human is an unusual topic for a young writer to confront, especially in a first novel, but why not, if the negative capability is not wanting? After all, it’s common enough for an older writer to inhabit young characters. The difference is, of course, that a young writer hasn’t yet been old. In Fiona McFarlane’s fir ...

Boy, Lost is a sad and shocking memoir, unique in particulars but not in broad outline. Domestic violence and psychological sadism lie at its heart.

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Julia Gillard’s magnificent tirade against Tony Abbott in parliament last year has given Anne Summers her title for The Misogyny Factor, a polemic on the landscape of sexism and disadvantage in Australia based on two of her own recent speeches. Hillary Clinton’s distinction between progress (the signs of how far we have come) and success (enduring c ...

The Beloved by Annah Faulkner

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June 2013, no. 352

God gave me polio?’ Taken aback by her grandmother’s bland insistence on unquestioning submission to divine will, the six-year-old child in Annah Faulkner’s novel The Beloved has already started questioning the articles of faith and the assumptions of the adults in her world, in that penetrating way some children h ...

The skills involved in writing successful novels are rather different from those needed for a weekly newspaper column. In a column, a thousand words must engage the reader, week in week out, whether or not the writer has anything urgent to say. A short deadline is less forgiving, allowing scant time for polishing and self-editing. On the other hand, stylistic idiosy ...

J.M. Coetzee: A Life in Writing by J.C. Kannemeyer, translated by Michiel Heyns

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February 2013, no. 348

When I heard that someone was writing Coetzee’s biography, I thought he must be either brave or foolish. After all, Coetzee’s own approach to autobiography is slippery, to say the least. J.C. Kannemeyer was (he died suddenly on Christmas Day 2011) a South African professor of Afrikaans and Dutch, a veteran biographer, and a literary historian. Coetzee co-operate ...

The Inheritance of Ivorie Hammer is a novel that manages to be absolutely itself, with a wholly idiosyncratic voice, while at the same time acting as a veritable echo chamber of earlier writers. The first page, with its lofty insistence about what ‘should not surprise the world’ in the behaviour of a young woman with the surname Ward, immediately ...

The Burial by Courtney Collins

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October 2012, no. 345

 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 ...

The Mountain by Drusilla Modjeska

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May 2012, no. 341

Papua New Guinea doesn’t loom large in Australian literature. As Nicholas Jose says, our ‘writers have not much looked in that direction for material or inspiration’. Drusilla Modjeska is thus entering relatively new territory for Australian fiction with an ambitious epic set in PNG. It is also a new venture for her: Poppy (1990), her only previous ‘novel’, won two non-fictio ...

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