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Book Reviews

What do we talk about when we talk about history? This is a question that Anna Clark has devoted her career to answering. She has followed the conversations Australians have about history into museums and universities – The History Wars (2003) and Australian History Now! (2013) – and classrooms and staffrooms – Teaching the Nation (2 ...

Have the French thought themselves to death? This is the question that Sudhir Hazareesingh poses in this erudite and stimulating book. His concluding chapter is a piece of diplomatic fence-sitting, but, notwithstanding the claim of the subtitle's affection, much of the analysis points to a national culture in terminal decline, inward-looking, nostalgic for past glor ...

Jennifer Down's first novel, Our Magic Hour, is notable for its stylistic individuality. The novel's opening is disorientating at first: Audrey wears a shirt whose 'sleeves swallowed her hands'; spaghetti bolognese 'spatters' on a stove; a football match 'bellows' from a television. This is an object-rich terrain, in which the details provide cues to interp ...

As he reminds his readers on numerous occasions in The Daemon Knows: Literary Greatness and the American Sublime, Harold Bloom is now well into his eighties. He has spent a lifetime teaching and writing about literature at Yale University, where he has long claimed to constitute a 'department of one'. The claim is part lament, part affectation, part boast. ...

It wasn’t long before myths and legends grew up around the story of St Francis of Assisi. James Cowan is right to suggest that this process began before Francis died and that Francis himself allowed or willed it to happen. He may even have encouraged it: ‘Francis endeavoured to make a metaphor out of his own life.’

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Gerry Turcotte’s Flying in Silence is a book of boyhood memoirs and family secrets, yet it creates a genre all its own. It contains an anatomy of depression and speaks of a family’s inability to cohere. Nevertheless, it swells with compassion and a deep commitment to life and living.

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‘A king had a beautiful daughter,’ begins David Foster’s new book: 204 pages between grey boards, a reproduction of Filippo Lippi’s Madonna con Bambino e due angeli on the covers, the author’s name itself visible only on the acknowledgements page, in rather small writing.

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Dalliance and Scorn by by Alan Gould with drawings by Anne Langridge

July 1999, no. 212

Alan Gould is not noted for being a poet of light verse, but with this volume he has achieved what brewers of light beer aim for strength without the hangover. The blurb rightly highlights Gould’s technique and lyrical gifts, and his acute vision of absurdity is present in abundance. Perhaps Gould has become the Heinrich Heine of Canberra, charting his city of decadence, with its down-and-outs, retired Army Majors, cheap opiates and X-rated entertainments, its dandified lobbyists, ‘Tsarevnas-on-the-dole’ and divorcees desperate for dalliance. Anne Langridge’s illustrations add to the book’s cabaret atmosphere, though you wouldn’t say Gould was paying homage to Berlin’s in the 1930s, with its Dada and expressionist camp.

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The good old days (bad old days?) of young adult fiction are gone. A couple of decades back it was impossible to imagine a reputable mainstream publisher producing a book for older children which has been supported by the Literature Board of the Australia Council and whose plot revolves around drug-taking (casual and accepted), violence, murder, abduction and rape. This is what The Enemy You Killed is about. The question is, does it more accurately depict real life than, say, an old-fashioned genteel novel like Swallows and Amazons? Perhaps it depends where you live. I’m not convinced that teenage gunplay with live ammunition is necessarily more ‘real’ than messing about with boats. At least in Australia. There is more than a whiff of the tabloids around the melodrama of The Enemy You Killed. It tells of a fifteen­year-old girl, Jules (Julia), who lives in an unspecified country town which lies close to a state forest dissected by a steep gorge. In this forest, mostly at weekends, many of the local young people have for many years been playing wargames dressed in combat gear and using not only air rifles and home-made explosives, but sometimes real combat weapons. The Tunnel Rats stalk The Rebels and vice versa, and a successful ambush is the ultimate thrill.

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