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Kevin Rabalais

You could call central casting for a debonair man of letters, but they’d never send someone as perfect for the role as Gore Vidal. By the time the stylish, sharp-witted – and yes, Hollywood-handsome – Vidal turned twenty-one, he had already served as first mate on a US supply ship in the Aleutian Islands duri ...

Since the publication of his début novel, Summerland (2000), Malcolm Knox has established himself as one of the most ambitious and exciting fiction writers at work in Australia. A seasoned journalist, recipient of two Walkley Awards– one for his work, with Caroline Overington, in the exposé of Norma Khouri– and prolific author of diverse non-fiction wor ...

The novel begins with the burnished quality of something handed down through generations, its opening lines like the first breath of a myth. Seductive in tone and concision, charged with an  aura of enchantment, the early paragraphs of George Johnston’s My Brother Jack (1964) do more than merely lure the reader into the narrative. In these sentences, Johnston reveals the conviction and control of a master storyteller who, at the outset, establishes his ambition and literary lineage:

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Some obsessions, present from the start, infiltrate a writer’s pages to the degree that they become synonymous with his body of work. This reaches beyond preoccupation and setting to include matters of style and sensibility. Such a combination allows the reader to discern, often in the space of a single sentence, one writer’s DNA from another’s. We return to certain writers to witness what new insights they reveal, however old their investigations. For more than four decades, readers have returned to David Malouf because we know that his searches, whether in poetry or prose, always proceed with delicate precision, wonder, and a beguiling intelligence whose charge we feel in every line.

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For many Australians, the Burke and Wills odyssey is a sketchy episode in our history. For Kevin Rabalais, a recent immigrant to this country from New Orleans, the fragments of the story were obviously an intriguing premise for a novel. His first novel, The Landscape of Desire, retraces this expedition and the later one led by Howitt that set out to find the missing explorers. The strange thing is that the author does not approach his work as historical fiction, but as literary fiction.

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