In 1976, Sigrid Nunez moved into an apartment on Riverside Drive in New York with her then boyfriend, David Reiff, and his mother, Susan Sontag. Nunez is a person who cherishes solitude. In Sempre Susan, her tribute to Sontag, she describes the strain of living with extroverts when her dream, from her teenage years, had been: ‘A single room. A chair, a table, a bed. Windows on a garden. Music. Books. A cat to teach me how to be alone with dignity.’ Sontag never wanted to be alone. Nunez was drawn into constant dinners, movies, and mountainous correspondence interrupted by telephone calls and visits, often from Joseph Brodsky, the Russian poet, who sometimes meowed like a cat instead of saying hello. (Although Nunez liked him, Brodsky was clearly not the cat of her dreams.) Sontag, objecting to a routine interview, grumbled that ‘Beckett wouldn’t do it’, which became a private refrain for Nunez, oppressed by the relentless activity of the household and the pressure for her to join in.... (read more)
At various times in its history, the Australian short story has been predictable, as editorial and public appetites have limited experimentation. I am glad to be reading now, when approval can be conferred on collections as different and as variously excellent as Julie Lewis’s The Walls of Jericho and Peter Skrzynecki’s The Wild Dogs. Lewis’s work is more formally experimental than Skrzynecki’s, but both collections offer insight into the social and the literary.... (read more)
Janine Burke’s Company of Images is a funny and socially astute book about painters and their promoters in contemporary Melbourne. The humour comes from sharp observations and deft characterisations. Burke’s minor figures are like good caricatures, but her major characters are a complex blend of impulses and emotions, which can be funny or sad. She takes the opportunity to send up predictably vulnerable members of her artistic community: the painter running to seed who often feels ‘small, helpless and angry’ and seduces or denounces his students according to the state of his ego; the curator with his eyes on New York and whose ambition is ‘to have friends he was unable to frighten’; the Professor of Fine Arts who roams his Department ‘inciting suspicion and acting out his own’; and the wealthy, titled collector who brings in a curator from the State Gallery to hang a painting in her toilet.... (read more)
A bookseller, Trevor, sits in his shop in Melbourne making conversation with his customers: an exasperating mixture of confessional, hesitant, deranged, and disruptive members of the public. One man stalks him, armed with an outrageous personal demand; another tries to apologise for assaulting him. The apology is almost as unnerving as the attack ...... (read more)
In Chris Womersley’s collection of short fiction, A Lovely and Terrible Thing, a man is caught in a fugue moment. Just after unexpectedly discharging a gun into the body of a stranger, he gazes at his reflection in a darkened window pane: ‘I saw someone outside looking in, before realising it was, in fact, my own reflection ...... (read more)
To celebrate the best books of 2018, Australian Book Review invited nearly forty contributors to nominate their favourite titles. Contributors include Michelle de Kretser... (read more)
‘In time and with water, everything changes,’ according to Leonardo da Vinci, who worked with Machiavelli on a strategic and ultimately doomed attempt to channel the flow of the Arno. Large-scale water management has had some notable successes in parts of Australia ...... (read more)
John Kinsella’s short stories are the closest thing Australians have to Ron Rash’s tales of washed-out rural America, where weakened and solitary men stand guard over their sad patch of compromised integrity in a world of inescapable poverty, trailer homes, uninsured sickness, and amphetamine wastage. Poe’s adventure stories and internally collapsing character ...
Originally published in German, Albrecht Dümling’s The Vanished Musicians: Jewish refugees in Australia (Peter Lang), a fascinating compendium of Jewish musicians who found refuge in Australia in the 1930s and 1940s, is now available in Australian Diana K. Weekes’s excellent translation ...... (read more)
In The Simplest Words, Alex Miller's recently published work on his own journey through country, writing, love, friendship, and fatherhood, there is a remarkable scene of levitation. Miller describes his young daughter soaring up his own bookshelves, pas ...