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Judith Armstrong

While there are several biographies of Ivan Turgenev, and one or two specialised studies of his works available in English, there is only one comprehensive attempt at interpretation and criticism –Richard Freeborn’s Turgenev: The novelist’s novelist. The A.N.U. Press’s publication of Robert Dessaix’s doctoral dissertation is a valuable addition to a scanty field, especially as there is very little overlap between the two critical works. This is all the more surprising when one realizes that both are more heavily weighted in the pan of philosophical exegesis than in that of strictly defined literary criticism. Freeborn’s book contains a chapter on style, which Dessaix’s does not, but both authors are mainly concerned to study the major novels in the light of differing but related perceptions of Turgenev’s spiritual development.

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Dymphna by Judith Armstrong

March 2017, no. 389

In the summer of 1988 I was part of an Adelaide Writers Week symposium on biography, the stars of which were two justly famous and accomplished biographers – Victoria Glendinning and Andrew Motion.  I described that occasion at the time, like this:

I greatly admired Motion’s panache. As we ascended the podium to begin the se ...

Patti Miller has written four books of or about memoir, one of which, The Mind of a Thief (UQP, 2012) won the New South Wales Premier’s History Award, and she has taught life writing for more than twenty years. Yet her most recent publication, Ransacking Paris, while enjoyable at one level, is disappointing at another. There is a serious mismatch bet ...

Marion Halligan is a prolific writer, and this is not the first time I have reviewed one of her books. Once, when she branched out into the genre of lightweight crime – The Apricot Colonel (2006) and Murder on the Apricot Coast (2008) – I commented on the problem faced by Cassandra, the novel’s narrator. An editor-turned-author, she turns out boo ...

The nub of this first novel is a good one. Even those who weren’t alive in the early 1950s will have heard of Joseph McCarthy. Fired by the tensions of the Cold War but with scant regard for hard evidence, the US Republican senator made his reputation by accusing numerous individuals of communist sympathies, possible disloyalty, and/or treason. Intellectuals of every kind were a particular target; the so-called Hollywood blacklist led to many actors and writers being hauled before the House Un-American Activities Committee, which was assiduously supported by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

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The 2012 centenary of the dramatic Scott–Amundsen race to reach the South Pole prompted several new non-fiction books on Antarctica. No fewer than five of them were reviewed in the December–January edition of London’s Literary Review, a welcome reminder of the superb Ferocious Summer (Profile Books, 2007) by Australian author Meredith Hooper, which won the Victorian Premier’s Award for Non-Fiction in 2008 (disclosure: I was convenor of that panel).

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Sylvia Lawson is an award-winning and highly respected essayist and film critic. Her subject matter, though generally Australian, is also concerned with our nearer neighbours and with the culture and politics f the world beyond. The theme of this new collection is resistance to oppression in seven parts of the world.

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Judith Armstrong, a Russian and French scholar, has translated the diaries of Tolstoy’s wife, Sonya, to form the focus of her second novel. Armstrong combines an intimate knowledge of Russian literature with a close reading of the couple’s diaries to create a convincing portrait of their volatile relationship through forty-eight years of marriage.

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The Wheeler Centre recently hosted ‘four provocative nights’ based on the assertion that Australian criticism of film, theatre, books and the visual arts is, in its own words, ‘failing us all’. The series was entitled ‘Critical Failure’. For ABR readers unable to attend, here is one person’s account of the books-related panel.

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This is a book of rather brief short stories, few of which exceed a dozen pages. This leaves room for nineteen stories in a fairly short collection. Most of them read easily, each one effortlessly displacing its predecessor. There are, of course, standouts, to which I shall return, but the most striking overall characteristic is the distinctively personalised tone. The wide variety of personae ...

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