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Suzanne Falkiner

Ida, a secondary school teacher in Melbourne with a four-year-old daughter, Aster, in childcare, lives in a post-Covid world of masks, mindfulness apps, remote learning, and video calls. Recently relocated from New Zealand when her partner, a lecturer in Cultural Studies, is offered a more prestigious job at an Australian university, she has relinquished the possibility of continuing her own academic career. He seems unwilling to share household tasks or help to tend to their child, despite the fact that they are both working, and distances himself by immersing himself in his study and going on long runs. In the opening passage, we are presented with Ida’s childhood memory of being on a beach, where she pretends that she knows how to swim – or rather, that she has learned ‘how not to drown’ – which now seems an apt metaphor for her marriage.

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The great age of sail – of European exploration and colonisation – is typically depicted as trenchantly masculine, with the only ‘women’ being unpredictable ships and the sea itself. Women have traditionally been considered bad luck, distracting, or not tough enough for life at sea. Nonetheless, historical research is increasingly revealing that many women played active roles at sea, as commanders, companions, and crew – from the gundecks of Trafalgar, to the topmasts of the American merchant navy, to the French voyages of discovery to the Indo-Pacific and Australia.

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In the swampy heat of a Brisbane summer in 1986, a young bookshop assistant tries to solve a fifty-year-old mystery involving Inga Karlson, a legendary New York author who died in a warehouse fire in 1939. Caddie Walker, the bookseller, is idealistic enough to believe that books can change people’s lives ...

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A short way into this intriguing novel, author Ruby J. Murray cites Virginia Woolf on the subject of biography. According to Murray’s protagonist, Woolf called it ‘a plodding art’: ‘Every life, she wrote, should open with a list of facts … a stately parade of the real. Births, deaths and marriages ...

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Gwen by Goldie Goldbloom

March 2017, no. 389

Goldie Goldbloom has an eye for the dramatic and the morbid. Her novel about the real-life love affair, beginning in 1904, between artists Gwen John and Auguste Rodin, thirty-six years her senior, begins with a list of seventeen women – including Camille Claudel, Isadora Duncan, and Lady Victoria Sackville-West – whom Rodin allegedly bedded. One, we learn, was h ...

Poet and novelist Mark O'Flynn lives in the same street in the Blue Mountains in which Eve Langley's derelict shack still stands. Perhaps her ghost drifts along the well-worn ...

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On 7 September 1922, seventeen-year-old Richard Lane left England on a six-week voyage to Australia, not to set foot in his home country again for three and a half years. For much of the intervening time he would work as a government-funded 'Barwell Boy', or indentured farm labourer, on small rural holdings outside Adelaide and in western New South Wales.

Ri ...

The port of Old Harwich can be approached by a streamlined highway through a barren industrial landscape, or via the high street through suburban Dovercourt. Either way, you keep going until you reach the sea: 'and if you get your feet wet, you've gone too far', they'll say when you ask directions. Finally, you reach an enclave of narrow streets lined by small cotta ...

This is a stylish book, and is rich with illustration which includes material quoted from the work of a whole range of writers as well as colour photographs that call up an immediate sense of place. It is a unique way to an understanding of Australia’s capital cities – historically, geographically, and culturally, and at the same time to an acquaintance with writers whose work is offered in the context of these cities. The material is essentially descriptive. Eclectic in content and often benign, it offers an alternative approach to our history in terms of landscape and literature. It would make an appropriate gift for readers who are curious about Australian literature/landscape and whose present knowledge is limited. It would also be a useful inclusion in familiarisation packages for diplomatic and political representatives from overseas countries.

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Suzanne Falkiner’s Wilderness is a garden of delights. This is one of the most imaginative, innovative, and useful books on Australian literary culture to emerge for some time. The book represents the first volume of a two-part series entitled The Writers’ Landscape, and Wilderness traces the influence of Australian landscape on Australian writers.

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