Brian Toohey reviews 'Permanent Record' by Edward Snowden

Brian Toohey
Friday, 15 November 2019

Edward Snowden was a model employee of the National Security Agency. After realising that the vast electronic surveillance organisation often failed to backup its advanced computerised systems properly, Snowden offered a solution. His bosses readily agreed to let him build and run a comprehensive backup system. He subsequently copied huge amounts of highly sensitive information, which he took with him when he left the NSA in 2013, aged twenty-nine, to become the most important whistleblower in intelligence agency history.

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At first glance, the premise of this book seems dubious. Katharine Smyth, an American woman in her mid-twenties, turns to the life and work of Virginia Woolf for solace after the death of her father. There is no doubt that Woolf writes brilliantly about death, particularly in the novel Smyth focuses on, To the Lighthouse (1927), which fictionalises the death of Woolf’s mother, Julia Stephen. But what comfort could Smyth hope to find in the work of a writer who herself refuses any of the usual consolations? After losing her mother and her elder half-sister, Stella, in her early teens, and then her father, Leslie, and her elder brother, Thoby, in her twenties, Woolf knew that there was no solace to be found. Her only comfort was that at least ‘the gods (as I used to phrase it) were taking one seriously’.

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In the spring of 2003, a person from Hilary McPhee’s past got in touch with her. McPhee did not remember the woman’s name but recognised her immediately when they met for coffee. At high school they had played hockey together for a team called the Colac Battlers. The woman had been working for years as a personal assistant at a palace in Jordan ...

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It is an eerie measure of a movie’s power when you come out at the end of it and sense, however fleetingly, that you’re still a part of its world, or that its world is all but indistinguishable from the everyday one you’ve just re-entered. German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder was grand master of this trick. His compatriot Pina Bau ...

Judy Armstrong reviews 'Playing with Water' by Kate Llewellyn

Judy Armstrong
Monday, 14 October 2019

Kate Llewellyn has written sixteen books, which is quite an achievement. They include poetry, fiction and autobiography. One book, The Waterlily (1987), has sold 30,000 copies, a notable accomplishment for any author. The Waterlily was the first book in Llewellyn’s Blue Mountains trilogy; the second was called Dear You (1988). I read it years ago, having borrowed it from a library because I suspected the title might be an indication of the tone. It was not the epistolary format that gave me pause: I have relished many correspondences, ranging from the passionate exchanges of Julie and St Preux in Rousseau’s Julie ou la Nouvelle Héloïse (1761) to Robert Dessaix’s grapplings with life-threatening illness in his acclaimed Night Letters (1996). But for my taste, the series of missives beginning ‘Dear You’ betrayed an irritating archness. The author seemed to be caught between the heady excitement of Revealing All and a coy fear of saying Too Much.

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At the age of twenty, Peter Conrad slammed his Australian door shut behind him. He was travelling into the ‘wider world’, away from his native Tasmania to take up his Rhodes scholarship at Oxford; he went with barely a backwards glance. Growing up as an omnivorous reader of English literature in the years of what he has called his ‘colonial childhood’, the young Conrad had become increasingly resentful at the perverse randomness of his exile. What he could only think of as an administrative error had relegated him to an Australia that seemed vacant and vacuous. When his time came, he ruthlessly withdrew his affection from parents and country. This snake-like shedding of skin was his liberation. Crossing Waterloo Bridge in August 1968, he had – like Wordsworth before him – a moment of epiphany. As the bridge ‘ran out into the Aldwych in a sunny crux of blue dust’, the young Conrad passed innocuously through the door by which he stepped into life. In confessional mode, he later celebrated this as the exact moment of his birth. That was when the years of his Australian youth were cancelled out, relegated to a phase of mere ‘pre-existence’.

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James Antoniou reviews 'On Drugs' by Chris Fleming

James Antoniou
Monday, 30 September 2019

Literature inspired by drugs tends to swing between extremes. On the one hand, drugs are the very doors of perception, gateways to Xanadu; on the other they are a source of grim addictions, lotus plants that tempt one into indefinite living sleep. In recent decades there have been the highs of William S. Burroughs, Tom Wolfe, Hunter S. Thompson and Irvine Welsh, but rarer are those memoirists with experiences of addiction and philosophy who can reflect on the subject in the tradition of Thomas De Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium-Eater (1821). Well, cue Chris Fleming’s On Drugs.

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This autobiography by Tim Costello – Baptist minister, lawyer, anti-casino activist, CEO of World Vision Australia for thirteen years – is a clear and straightforward account of his life, free of obvious literary artifice. What Costello has tried to do, he says, is to understand and explain how his memories and experiences ...

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Sirens wail. Families cry together. Defibrillators shock bodies into convulsion. These are the sounds and images that veteran paramedic, writer, and filmmaker Benjamin Gilmour animates in his latest book, The Gap

'After the Academy' by Kerryn Goldsworthy

Kerryn Goldsworthy
Monday, 23 September 2019

At seven o’clock on the morning of 2 February 1999, I was due at the Memorial Hospital in North Adelaide to relieve my older sister at my mother’s bedside, where she had been all night. The alarm was set for six. At five-thirty, I was woken by the phone; my mother had died, as we had known for a couple of days that she would, from complications following a cerebral haemorrhage.

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