When I heard that there was a new book out on why women run, I assumed I would be reading about women fleeing domestic horrors rather than running marathons. Such a reaction might make Catriona Menzies-Pike sigh with frustration, and the cultural myopia which gave rise to my unthinking assumption is one of the reasons she wrote this book. 'I'd read a lot of books about running, but I struggled to recognise myself in any of them.'

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  • Free Article No
  • Custom Article Title Gillian Dooley reviews 'The Long Run' by Catriona Menzies-Pike
  • Contents Category Memoir
  • Book Title The Long Run
  • Book Author Catriona Menzies-Pike
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Affirm Press $29.99 pb, 268 pp, 9781925344479
Friday, 26 February 2016 14:53

News from the Editor's Desk - March 2016

Porter Prize

Five poems have been shortlisted in the 2016 Peter Porter Poetry Prize. The poets are Dan Disney, Anne Elvey, Amanda Joy, Lisa Gluskin Stonestreet, and Campbell Thomson; their poems can be read here. The judges on this occasion were Luke Davies, Lisa Gorton, and Kate Middleton.

Join us at our studio in Boyd Community Hub on Wednesday, 9 March (6 pm), when the poets will introduce and read their works, followed by the announcement of the overall winner, who will receive $5,000 and an Arthur Boyd print. This is a free event, but reservations are essential.

These ceremonies always commence with a series of readings of poems written by Peter Porter (1929–2010). This year our readers – Judith Bishop (winner in 2006 and 2011), Morag Fraser, Lisa Gorton, and Peter Rose among them – may choose to dip into the new collection of late Porter poems: Chorale at the Crossing (Picador, $24.99 pb).

Peter Porter portrait 1Peter Porter

States of Poetry

ABR's poetry content continues to expand. To complement the Porter Prize, monthly poems and reviews, and our Poem of the Week podcast, we are delighted to introduce States of Poetry, the first federally arranged poetry anthology project to be published in this country. With handsome support from Copyright Agency's Cultural Fund, each year we will publish individual state and territory anthologies intended to highlight the quality and diversity of contemporary Australian poetry. The full States of Poetry anthologies will appear free of charge on our website, with poems, biographies, recordings, and introductions from our state editors. Each month we will publish a selection in the print edition. South Australia is the mini-anthology to be printed in the print edition while the first full anthology to be published online is ACT, which you can find here

Renting a guillotine

Harper's Magazine carried, in its January issue, a list of queries submitted to the New York Public Library's Reference and Research Services between 1940 and 1989. Here are some examples: 'Where can I rent a guillotine?'; 'Who built the English Channel?'; 'Is it proper to go alone to Reno to get a divorce?'; 'Is this where I ask questions I can't get answers to?'

Whenever we advertise one of our literary prizes, we feel for those librarians. Entrants pose the curliest questions. A few instances will serve. 'Does a short story have to be fiction?' 'What is fiction?' 'Do the spaces in my poem count as lines?' 'Can I enter online but send my story by post?' 'If I published my essay online but no one read it, does that count as publication?'

With the Jolley Prize open until 11 April, we look forward to fielding lots of metaphysically elevated if possibly unanswerable questions.

Gwen Harwood

Harwood GwenGwen Harwood

A footnote to our December lament about the paucity of Australian literary biographies. Brandl & Schlesinger, that enterprising Sydney publisher, has issued Gwen Harwood's Idle Talk: Letters 1960–1964, edited by Alison Hoddinott, the recipient, with her husband, of these brilliant missives. No one wrote like Harwood. Her account in 1961 of the furore that followed the Bulletin's unwitting publication of her two famous acrostic sonnets (SO LONG BULLETIN; and FUCK ALL EDITORS) contains some ferocious comic writing quite worthy of Evelyn Waugh, none better than Harwood's transcript of a conversation with the Bulletin's embattled Desmond O'Grady.

Only three letters survive from 1960. Alison Hoddinott records a late conversation with Harwood in 1995 who became annoyed when her friend confessed that she had burned the other letters, at Harwood's request. 'You shouldn't have taken any notice of me,' Harwood replied. 'Writers always say that. They don't mean it.'

Quite right: if authors really want to destroy their private papers, they stoke the incinerator, like Henry James.

Her majesty's pleasure

Prime ministerial post-mortems can be absorbing, and Aaron Patrick's Credlin & Co.: How the Abbott Government Destroyed Itself (Black Inc., $29.99 pb) is entertaining. The author repeats one claim that, to our surprise, didn't gain much traction in the weeks after Abbott's defeat. Greg Sheridan, reliably close to Abbott, suggested in The Australian that Abbott gave Philip his knighthood 'because he learned the Queen wanted her husband to have one'.

The British monarchy can be accused of many things, but in this case Aaron Patrick's reading seems plausible: 'Sheridan's article could not be verified: Buckingham Palace would never answer a question about the Queen's wishes for her husband. The article sounded like after-the-fact justification.' Of which we can expect to hear much more this year, especially from the Malcontents.

Aaron Patrick, like many scribblers, chooses to dedicate the book to the 'love of his life'; but in an Author's Note he also remembers Roger East, the journalist who was murdered by Indonesian troops in Dili in 1975. Royalties from Credlin & Co. will be donated to a fund honouring the Balibo Five, who perished shortly before East did. Impressively, this fund will help train East Timorese journalists in Australia.

ABR RAFT Fellowship

Alan AtkinsonAlan Atkinson

Interest was high in the inaugural ABR RAFT Fellowship, which examines the role and significance of religion in society and culture. Alan Atkinson was chosen from a large and impressive field. He is Emeritus Professor of History, University of New England, and Senior Tutor and Fellow at St Paul's College, and Honorary Professor, University of Sydney. Professor Atkinson, an occasional contributor to ABR, is the author of several award-winning books, including his three-volume magnum opus, The Europeans in Australia.

Alan Atkinson's proposal began, timelily, 'Can a nation, Australia especially, make an effort, just to be good?' We can't wait to publish his Fellowship article, whose working title is 'How Do We Live with Ourselves? The Australian National Conscience'.

We thank everyone who applied for the ABR RAFT Fellowship, and hope to present a second one in 2017.

ABR Laureate's Fellow

Michael Aiken smallerMichael Aiken

ABR Laureate David Malouf has chosen Sydney poet Michael Aiken as the inaugural ABR Laureate's Fellow. These Fellowships are intended to advance the work of a younger writer admired by the Laureate. Michael Aiken, who lives and works in Sydney, receives $5,000. He was born in western Sydney and raised on the New South Wales central coast. Michael Aiken spent thirteen years working in the security industry. His book A Vicious Example (Grand Parade, 2014) was shortlisted for the 2015 Kenneth Slessor Prize. His poetry and prose have appeared in various journals in Australia and overseas. Michael is working on a narrative poem, part of which ABR will publish in due course.

Hazel Rowley Fellowship

Shannon Burns's ABR Fellowship profile of Gerald Murnane ('The Scientist of His Own Experience', ABR, August 2015) was admired by many, including Text Publishing, which has commissioned him to write Murnane's biography. Shannon Burns has also been shortlisted for the 2016 Hazel Rowley Literary Fellowship. He is one of nine biographers on the shortlist, and the competition is keen. Others include Jacqueline Kent (for a biography of Robert Helpmann), Jeff Sparrow (Paul Robeson), and Philip Dwyer (Napoleon Bonaparte).

The Rowley Fellowship, now in its fifth year and worth $10,000, commemorates the life and work of one of Australia's finest biographers, Hazel Rowley (1951–2011). The intention is to encourage travel and risk-taking – of which Hazel would have emphatically approved. The winner will be announced on 9 March.

Marathons and Prepositions

Few editors write books (they're not meant to have time for such frivolities). Even fewer run marathons (or break into a jog, in our experience). Catriona Menzies-Pike – editor of the Sydney Review of Books – is an exception. Her first book, The Long Run, is described as 'a personal and cultural memoir about why women run' (Affirm Press, $29.99 pb). One of Menzies-Pike's reasons for doing so was the death of her parents in a light plane crash when she was twenty. Those early losses are described in dignified, telling prose, with a moving description of revisiting the family home in Albury soon after the accident, only to find it barred.

The editor in Catriona Menzies-Pike is never sedentary for long: 'To map the meaning of any kind of run, we need to pay attention to the prepositions.'

Vale John Hirst

Distinguished historian and author John Hirst has died, aged seventy-three. For almost four decades he taught history at La Trobe University, always eschewing a Chair and preferring to remain Reader in History. His prose was impeccable, his scholarship highly influential. ACU Vice-Chancellor Greg Craven has described him as 'one of the greatest historians this country has had'.

John Hirst's frequent contributions to ABR began with the current Editor's first issue in 2001. The pair had worked on several books for Oxford University Press in the 1990s, including A Republican Manifesto in 1994 (Hirst was a founding convenor of the ARM in Victoria). With Graeme Davison and Stuart Macintyre, Dr Hirst co-edited The Oxford Companion to Australian History (1998). After retiring from La Trobe University in 2006, he continued to publish books aimed at an enquiring general audience. These included The Shortest History of Europe (2009) and Australian History in 7 Questions (2014).

The new Children's Laureate

1 HobbsLeighLeigh Hobbs (photograph by Sergion Fontana)

Bestselling author and illustrator Leigh Hobbs – creator of the inimitable characters Horrible Harriet, Mr Chicken, and Old Tom – has been named as the new Australian Children's Laureate for 2016–17, succeeding writer Jackie French. Hobbs intends to use his term 'to champion creative opportunities for children, and to highlight the essential role libraries play in nurturing our creative lives'.

The Australian Children's Laureate initiative was developed by the Australian Children's Literature Alliance with the aim of promoting the importance of reading, creativity, and story in the lives of young Australians.

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  • Free Article Yes
  • Custom Article Title News from the Editor's Desk - March 2016
  • Contents Category Advances

Where to start with Fever of Animals? The narrator of Miles Allinson’s début novel is hardly certain where to begin his story. Throughout this curious book, the difficulties of composition are paramount. ‘And what is this book I am supposed to be writing? Am I even writing a book or am I fooling myself, as I fooled myself so many times in the past, when I pretended for such a long time to be a painter, for instance?’ To answer these questions, Fever of Animals impersonates a memoir, a diary, and an almost conventional Bildungsroman about an ardent young Australian abroad.

A former artist named Miles is the narrator of most of Fever of Animals. Occasionally, he is absorbed into a third-person narrative, as if swallowed by the story he is trying to tell. He is writing a book about a long-dead Romanian surrealist painter named Emil Bafdescu – but that story summons a sheaf of other stories.

Another beginning to Fever of Animals is a painting by Bafdescu that hangs in a Melbourne restaurant that is yoked to Miles’s memory of his late father. We begin again with the narrator’s university years in Melbourne and with the blossoming and decline of his relationship with a woman named Alice. We follow this antipodean cosmopolitan on his travels in Europe and South America, and we stay with him as the desire to glean information about Bafdescu (so that he can start the book) emerges as a guiding imperative.

Additional Info

  • Free Article No
  • Custom Article Title Catriona Menzies-Pike reviews 'Fever of Animals' by Miles Allinson
  • Contents Category Fiction
  • Book Title Fever of Animals
  • Book Author Miles Allinson
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Scribe, $29.99 pb, 256 pp, 9781925106824

We meet Kit, a reticent and slightly spoilt teenager, just after her arrival at the train station of an unnamed Victorian seaside town. She has been picked up by her friendly, daggy aunt Treen and taken to the Sea House, a dilapidated nineteenth-century mansion that is a case study in antipodean gothic.

Treen lives in the Sea House as a carer and companion to Kit’s grandparents, Audrey and Patrick. In a cluttered, shabby kitchen, the family shares an awkward meal of beef with beans and roast potatoes. Kit’s mother, Anna, has neglected to tell Treen that Kit is a vegetarian, and the girl unhappily picks at her beans, which ‘had been frozen and tasted faintly of dishwashing liquid’. Treen shows Kit to her bedroom: ‘It was a room where no one could ever have been comfortable.’ Such precise and tense evocations of family life are frequent in The Life of Houses, poet Lisa Gorton’s extremely poised first adult novel.

This room was Kit’s mother’s bedroom when she was a child, and as Treen watches Kit moving between the ‘humourlessly florid’ mahogany furniture, she remarks, ‘You might be her, standing there’. Kit is not comfortable taking her mother’s place in the Sea House; she bridles when her relatives and their friends comment upon their physical similarity.

Additional Info

  • Free Article No
  • Custom Article Title Catriona Menzies-Pike reviews 'The Life of Houses' by Lisa Gorton
  • Contents Category Fiction
  • Book Title The Life of Houses
  • Book Author Lisa Gorton
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Giramondo, $26.95 pb, 224 pp, 9781922146809

‘What’s your favourite way water can be?’, eight-year-old Em asks her father Merv. Em likes waterfalls, but Merv prefers floods. A flood, he explains to Em, ‘is a type of flat waterfall you can ride on. But it’s serious too. It knows where it’s going and it’s determined to get there.’

Mervyn Rossiter, the exasperating, endearing larrikin hero of writer Anson Cameron’s fifth novel, The Last Pulse, delivers this lesson just before dynamiting a dam at Karoo Station in south-east Queensland. In doing so, he unleashes a cleansing flood of retribution to make the water thieves from Queensland understand the pain their irrigation policy is causing those who live downstream. This includes men like Merv, a wine-grower in South Australia, whose livelihood disappeared when the water stopped flowing. Aboard a stolen party punt named The Party Animal, Em and Merv ride the water back home. In the course of their journey, they pick up a few passengers: Bridget Wray, the agitated Queensland minister for the environment, who found herself inelegantly stranded on a portaloo when the dam blew, and Barwon, an indigenous teenager from central New South Wales, who believes that he sang the water back into the dry riverbed.

Additional Info

  • Free Article No
  • Custom Article Title Catriona Menzies-Pike reviews 'The Last Pulse' by Anson Cameron
  • Contents Category Fiction
  • Book Title The Last Pulse
  • Book Author Anson Cameron
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Vintage, $29.99 pb, 273 pp, 9780857984982

Midway through Kári Gíslason’s début novel, The Ash Burner, Ted, his dreamy, curious narrator, watches Anthony paint Claire. As she strikes angular poses for him, Ted reflects on how he would paint her: ‘I would have waited for the moments when she relaxed that pose and when her outline, the shape of her waist, was allowed to stand uncorrected by art or design.’

Ted casts himself as the romantic to Anthony’s modernist. Although he is not always a reliable judge of either character or aesthetics, he is certainly a young man who will wait for the shape of events to emerge rather than moulding them to suit his own desires. He is a careful observer, always attentive to the efforts that people around him make to present chosen versions of themselves to the world, and earnestly self-aware – to the point of paralysis – of the poses he too must adopt in life.

Additional Info

  • Free Article No
  • Custom Article Title Catriona Menzies-Pike reviews 'The Ash Burner' by Kári Gíslason
  • Contents Category Fiction
  • Book Title The Ash Burner
  • Book Author Kári Gíslason
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio University of Queensland Press, $29.95 pb, 229 pp, 9780702253423
Monday, 24 November 2014 11:54

Lerner's Beacon

In Ben Lerner’s second novel, 10:04, weather maps that promise hurricanes deliver mere showers. The symptoms presented by an ailing human body don’t always yield a diagnosis and the night sky is a mystery. Excavated dinosaur bones can suggest that a creature as wonderful as a brontosaurus might have existed and then, on review, reveal that marvel to have been a fiction all along. It is hard to make sense of all this cultural, biological, and physical data; to integrate, as the narrator of this remarkable novel reflects, ‘all that information into a larger picture’.

We find ourselves in the company of two similarly bewildered textual personae: the first, the narrator, speaks directly to us about the novel that he plans to write; efforts of the second to write that novel are narrated in the third person. That second character, an author named Ben, is the stand-in for the narratorial I – and both resemble Ben Lerner, the Brooklyn-based poet and author who is reaping the royalties for 10:04. And to complicate any assessment of 10:04’s likenesses, the novel in question, the one Ben is trying to write, will turn on a set of fabricated letters between a fictional author and famous writers, some of whom actually lived.

10:04 opens as the narrator and his agent celebrate a book deal negotiated after the appearance of a short story in the New Yorker. (Lerner’s story ‘The Golden Vanity’ appeared there in 2012 and is repeated in full in 10:04.) The decadence of this meal is registered by the consumption of ‘baby octopuses the chef had literally massaged to death’. We may wish to stay with the ethical reprehensibility of so coddling a cephalopod for gastronomical purposes, or to wonder at the metaphorical possibilities inherent with this brilliant creature, an etymological and actual head-foot composite, all thought and mobility, and to its death by a surfeit of care. But there is no time: 10:04 pulls us forward.

Similarly, the narrator, in the early section, worries about a possible diagnosis of Marfan Syndrome, a condition which afflicts the body’s connective tissues and imperils stereognosis, making it difficult to ‘read the realistic fiction the world appears to be’. Later on, he hides in his room and cuts contact with the world for most of a residency in the Texan town of Marfa. How on earth, Lerner seems to ask of E.M. Forster and his fellow modernist overlords, can we make the right connections?

lernerBen Lerner (photograph by Matt Lerner)

The 10:04 of the novel’s title points us in the direction of an unlikely guide: Marty McFly, a time-travelling young man bedevilled by the consequences now of meddling with what happened then, a danger also present for novelists working with autobiographical material. Gen X readers with sharp memories of the film Back to the Future (1985) will know that Marty McFly had to reach a certain clock tower in Emmett Brown’s DeLorean by 10:04 pm in order to project himself back to the future, and thus to avoid distorting the time-space continuum.

During the opening lunch, we discover that Lerner’s narrator will reap $270,000 after taxes from his book deal. Throughout the novel we return to that pile of cash and what it signifies. The money will allow Ben to, in his words, ‘project myself into several futures simultaneously’. The novel-to-come will help pay for fertility treatments for his friend Alex as they attempt to conceive a child together; it will cover gifts for Roberto, the Salvadorean ten-year old Ben meets each week in the role of an unofficial tutor.

Lerner is an astonishingly deft writer. He could simply entertain us with his supple, tentacular sentences, but instead he dares us to consider what the contemporary novel is worth, financially and politically. Hence the racy disclosure about the advance and the details of that outrageous lunch. We are frequently reminded that the futures into which this novel projects its characters have material dimensions. We learn which characters do and do not have health insurance; we meet an Occupy protester who showers at the narrator’s apartment; we eavesdrop on the denizens of the literary world as they gossip at parties and over dinner about advances, film rights, and mediocre novels that sold big.

Walt Whitman is one of the presiding spirits of 10:04, but Lerner’s avatars do not quite put one in mind of the exuberant animus of Leaves of Grass. Whitman is bold, he roars with tremendous gusto, especially by comparison to the self-deprecating, anxious, and highly self-conscious voices that carry 10:04. For Lerner, irony is a necessary prophylaxis against the risk of making the wrong kinds of attachments, but it undermines the sincere efforts of his characters to communicate and to create communities. 

‘Lerner is an astonishingly deft writer ... he dares us to consider what the contemporary novel is worth, financially and politically’

For Lerner, as for Whitman, communities are important, and so too are the pronouns that facilitate them. 10:04 swings between the first- and third-person pronouns but its greater interest is in ‘a still inhabited second person plural’: the collective you. Ultimately, too, it seeks to envisage a first-person plural: a revolutionary us sufficient to contain multitudes.

10:04 is an exciting book, one that thinks seriouslyabout what contemporary literature can do and whom it can reach. Lerner’s game transliteration of the conventions of fiction and non-fiction has generated a far from fraudulent new form. 10:04 flickers like a beacon, one that lights a path to help us reach back to the future, and claim it for ourselves.

Additional Info

  • Free Article Yes
  • Custom Article Title Catriona Menzies-Pike reviews '10:04' by Ben Lerner
  • Contents Category Fiction
  • Book Title 10:04
  • Book Author Ben Lerner
  • Book Subtitle A NOVEL
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Granta, $27.99 pb, 256 pp, 9781783781379