Nikki Gemmell

After by Nikki Gemmell

by
April 2017, no. 390

In 2015, Nikki Gemmell’s mother, Elayn, took an overdose of painkillers. Gemmell’s new book, After, chronicles the difficult process of confronting her mother’s death and resolving the anguish it brought to her and her children. It is also an impassioned appeal for changes in Australia’s laws on the right to die.

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The skills involved in writing successful novels are rather different from those needed for a weekly newspaper column. In a column, a thousand words must engage the reader, week in week out, whether or not the writer has anything urgent to say. A short deadline is less forgiving, allowing scant time for polishing and self-editing. On the other hand, stylistic idiosyncrasies that might become tiresomely repetitive in a longer format can be indulged, even encouraged – part of the charm.

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For there is always going on within us a process of formulation and interpretation whose subject matter is our own selves.

These words appear towards the end of Erich Auerbach’s study of representation in Western literature, Mimesis. First published in 1946, the book has become a classic of twentieth-century literary criticism, but is almost as famous for the circumstances under which it was composed as for its content. It was written between 1942 and 1945 in Istanbul, where Auerbach, a German Jew, was living in exile.

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