Hamish Hamilton

The Snowden Files by Luke Harding & No Place to Hide by Glenn Greenwald

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June–July 2014, no. 362

1984 is back. George Orwell’s nightmare vision of governmental surveillance, secrecy, and deception clearly resonates with the revelations first leaked to the Guardian by former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden. Indeed, it is practically impossible to find an account of the Snowden affair without at least one ‘Orwellian’ adjective dropped into the mix. Sometimes it comes qualified: Justice Richard J. Leon, District Court Judge for the District of Columbia ruling in December 2013 that the bulk collection of US mobile phone records was probably unconstitutional, called the NSA program ‘almost Orwellian’. This decision is currently under appeal.

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Only the Animals by Ceridwen Dovey

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May 2014, no. 361

One of the animal narrators in Ceridwen Dovey’s Only the Animals, a dolphin named Sprout who is writing to Sylvia Plath, quotes Nobel Prize-winner Elias Canetti: ‘whenever you observe an animal closely, you feel as if a human being sitting inside were making fun of you.’ The ten animal souls whose thematically interwoven stories Dovey recounts do not simply ‘make fun’ of humans (far from it), but Canetti’s image of the ‘human sitting inside’ nevertheless provides an apposite introduction to Dovey’s project as a whole. Here each animal protagonist is an unashamedly literary, anthropomorphised invention, with physical and behavioural characteristics of its species grafted on in service to its creator’s startlingly original and imaginative design.

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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 first novel, The Night Guest, the main centre of consciousness, through whom the whole narrative is perceived, is more than twice the author’s age. In an interview in the Sydney Morning Herald, McFarlane revealed that both her grandmothers suffered from dementia and that writing about Ruth, a seventy-five-year-old widow who is clearly becoming increasingly confused (the D-word is never used), is an act of homage and remembrance.

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Italo Calvino once observed that the ideal condition for a writer is ‘close to anonymity’, adding that ‘the more the author’s figure invades the field, the more the world he portrays empties’. These comments about anonymity were made during an interview on Swiss television, no less. Calvino must have felt his imaginary worlds slipping away as he spoke ...

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Pre-teen and early teen years had me and many others enjoying Ross Campbell’s witty column in the Sunday Telegraph newspaper about the goings-on in ‘Oxalis Cottage’, a fictionalised version of his Sydney home. Robert Drewe’s often hilarious columns for The Age and The Weekend West are a kind of modern equivalent, and a selection of them is brought together to form The Local Wildlife.

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The first time The Engagement’s narrator, Liese Campbell, sees the family homestead owned by her lover, Alexander Colquhoun, she is struck by its imposing physical presence: ‘We turned a corner … The second storey came into view: eight upstairs windows and each chimney intricate as a small mausoleum.’ As she surveys the isolated Victorian mansion, with its English driveways and gardens, she realises that it has ‘been built precisely so one would feel at its mercy’.

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In The Australian Moment: How We Were Made for These Times, George Megalogenis tries to explain how, in spite of ourselves, we managed to survive the last three ‘super crashes of the digital age’. He does so by actively avoiding the usual partisan morality tales, complete with intra-party rivalry ...

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In his ‘mongrel memoir’, How to Make Gravy, singer–songwriter Paul Kelly describes the ‘pretendies’ that can ambush a musician on stage: ‘One minute you’re putting a song over to the crowd, totally inside what you’re doing, everything meshing, then suddenly you’re adrift, floating above yourself and wondering what on earth you’re doing there.’

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Butterfly by Sonya Hartnett

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February 2009, no. 308

Sonya Hartnett is one of the most various of good writers. In particular, she is good at creating atmosphere: a distinctive world for every story. As a consequence, every book she writes is a different style of book. Take some recent examples. The Ghost’s Child (2007), with its plot like a fable, reads like an old tale told in an outdated language of ‘sou’westers’ and ‘fays’. Its form, language and style are so consistent its oddity seems like part of its simplicity. In contrast, Surrender (2005), a horror story, has a style of calculated Gothic, playing narrative games to manufacture menace.

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At a time when some fiction writers are busy defending their right to incorporate autobiographical elements, and some non-fiction writers are being charged with fabrication, it seems timely of Nam Le to begin his collection of stories with one that plays with notions of authenticity in literature ...

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