Susan Sheridan reviews 'Beyond Words: A year with Kenneth Cook' by Jacqueline Kent

Susan Sheridan reviews 'Beyond Words: A year with Kenneth Cook' by Jacqueline Kent

Beyond Words: A year with Kenneth Cook

by Jacqueline Kent

University of Queensland Press, $29.95 hb, 247 pp, 9780702260391

Kenneth Cook (1929-87) was a prolific author best known for his first novel, Wake in Fright (1961), which was based on his experience as a young journalist in Broken Hill in the 1950s. In January 1972, as I sat in a London cinema watching the film made from this novel by director Ted Kotcheff, its nightmare vision of outback life seared itself into my brain. I was about to return home to Australia after two and a half years away, and I wondered why on earth I had made the fateful decision to go back to a place as violent and cruel as this.

Wake in Fright exemplifies the tradition of Australian bush Gothic, with its themes of entrapment, madness, sexual violence, and massacre (in this case, of kangaroos). Its small-town setting links it with Thea Astley’s novels dealing with the rituals of male violence and the humiliation of schoolteachers and other purveyors of culture beyond city limits. The restoration and rerelease of the film in 2009 again drew shocked and fascinated responses; since then, both book and film are frequently taught in Australian literature courses.

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Published in March 2019, no. 409
Susan Sheridan

Susan Sheridan

Susan Sheridan FAHA is Emeritus Professor in the School of Humanities at Flinders University in Adelaide. Her latest book is The Fiction of Thea Astley (2016). Earlier books include: Nine Lives: Postwar Women Writers Making Their Mark (2011), Christina Stead (1988), Along the Faultlines: Sex, Race and Nation in Australian Women’s Writing 1880s to 1930s (1995), and Who Was That Woman? The Australian Women’s Weekly in the Postwar Years (2002); as editor, Grafts: Feminist Cultural Criticism (1988), Debutante Nation: Feminism Contests the 1890s (1993) with Sue Rowley and Susan Magarey, and Thea Astley’s Fictional Worlds (2006), with Paul Genoni.

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