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Michelle de Kretser

Scary Monsters by Michelle de Kretser

October 2021, no. 436

To read Michelle de Kretser’s fiction is to sense important details swimming under the surface of our awareness, forming patterns that will come into view by the end of the story, or after contemplating it for a time, or while rereading. There is always enough to satisfy our immediate needs – rich aphorisms, sharp characterisation, satirical wickedness, the play of language, political and historical concerns, mysteries explored – but the presence of morphing repetitions and suggestive references leaves the pleasurable impression that you have only just started reading the novel even as you finish its closing sentence. The structural integrity of de Kretser’s fiction, its intelligence and purposeful virtuosity, combine to induce keen readerly attentiveness. Scary Monsters is no exception.

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ABR asked a few colleagues and contributors to nominate some books that have beguiled them – might even speak to others – at this unusual time.

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To celebrate the best books of 2018, Australian Book Review invited nearly forty contributors to nominate their favourite titles. Contributors include Michelle de Kretser

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To complement our 2017 ‘Books of the Year’, we invited several senior publishers to nominate their favourite books – all published by other companies.

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To celebrate the best books of 2017 Australian Book Review invited nearly forty contributors to nominate their favourite titles. Contributors include Michelle de Kretser, Susan Wyndham, James Ley, Geordie Williamson, Jane Sullivan, Tom Griffiths, Mark Edele, and Brenda Niall.

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The Life to Come by Michelle de Kretser

October 2017, no. 395

Humans are narrative creatures. We tell stories to make sense of ourselves, but our stories – be they historical, political, fictional, or personal – shape us as much as we shape them. In the service of narrative expediency, we often sacrifice nuance. We turn chance to prophecy, and accidents into choices. We justify and excuse ourselves. We anoint heroes and vi ...

Anyone who has lived in Sydney’s inner west will recognise the terrain of Springtime: gardens redolent of mystery and decay, shabbiness, unexpected vistas, and streets that Michelle de Kretser describes as running ‘everywhere like something spilled’.

Frances has moved to Sydney with Charlie, who has left his wife and son Luke behind in Melbourne. Luke’s occasional visits fuel Frances’s uncertainty with intimations of a shared family history from which she feels excluded. She walks Rod, the timid dog she rescued from the pound, and muses on the vagaries of her situation, her fears and failings.

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In Overland back in 2006, Ken Gelder singled out Michelle de Kretser’s first novel, The Rose Grower (1999), as evidence of a contemporary Australian literature in crisis. Its foreign and historical setting, horticultural fetish, focus on private manners and primped prose, he argued, flaunted a rarefied and élitist aesthetics that wanted nothing to do with the ‘political realities’ of ‘ordinary life’. With Questions of Travel, it is as if de Kretser is responding to this charge. This is a novel whose ambitions, which are considerable, are driven by a desire to engage with, not retreat from, both the wider world and the common reader. What we have here is a quite different type of Australian literary novel from the one that Gelder identified, though one that seems to be gaining ascendancy – one that is less arch, more cosmopolitan, and more seriously engaged with the larger events and problems of our times.

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Why do you write?

It’s an excuse to hang around books, which is all I’ve done, one way or another, over the course of my career.

Are you a vivid dre ...

Michelle de Kretser’s third novel opens with a man and a dog in the Australian bush, an image whose hooks are sunk deep in our national psyche. Recall the Edenic first chapter of The Tree of Man (1955), with its portrait of Stan Parker settling on a patch of virgin wilderness with only his dog for company. In the Australian Garden, Eve is a subsidiary companion.

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