Brian Matthews reviews 'We Need Silence to Find Out What What We Think: Selected Essays' by Shirley Hazzard

In her speech as the winner of the 2003 National Book Award, Shirley Hazzard said, 'We should do our best by the language. We mustn't torture it; we mustn't diminish it. We have to love it, nurture it, and enjoy it.'

Reading Hazzard, as she is variously represented in this collection, is to encounter a writer who has done her 'best by the language' and, in these essays, continues marvellously to do so. Two of Hazzard's distinctive literary qualities are a kind of stately seriousness and a capacity to hold a number of perceptions or reflections or memories in tension without losing either momentum or focus. These characteristics are variously evident but perhaps nowhere more clearly, and certainly more typically, than in the 1982 essay 'The Lonely Word' and in the title essay, 'We need silence ...'

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Published in May 2016, no. 381

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