French journalist Agnès Poirier has a flair for relating the saving of France’s artistic treasures. One of the most gripping chapters of her previous book, Left Bank: Art, passion and the rebirth of Paris, 1940–50 (2018), told the story of Jacques Jaujard, who skilfully evacuated the Louvre’s greatest works mere days before the outbreak of World War II. In Poirier’s brief volume on Paris’s cathedral of Notre-Dame, devastated by fire on 15 April 2019, it is the turn of curator Marie-Hélène Didier and Notre-Dame’s operational director, Laurent Prades. As Poirier tracks the fire from outbreak to containment, we watch them battle Paris’s traffic-locked streets by car, RER, Vélib’, and foot to reach the cathedral and rescue what they can. Prades’s sudden (and entirely understandable) inability to remember the code for the safe in which the Crown of Thorns is kept makes for tense reading.... (read more)
Margaret Bearman’s We Were Never Friends is a novel that places the myth of the artistic male genius against the critical eye of history. Lotti, the eldest daughter of renowned Australian painter George Coates, narrates from two perspectives: her younger, twelve-year-old self and her present-day one, a trainee surgeon.... (read more)
How many of us would really want to be prime minister? The road to The Lodge is littered with depressing tales of ambitious politicians abandoning their friends, principles, and even their own authentic voice in order to secure the Top Job. Then, once you’ve fulfilled your life’s ambitions, voters and your own supporters are liable to tire of you and seek a new political hero. Nevertheless, prime ministers become accustomed to the power, public attention, and perks of office; they find it difficult to choose the ‘right time’ to leave office.... (read more)
The ‘Uluru Statement from the Heart’ emerged in May 2017 from a convention held in Arrernte country in Central Australia attended by 250 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from around the nation. The Statement called for a ‘First Nations Voice’ to be enshrined in the Constitution enabling, in general terms, a process of influence on future legislation and policy affecting Indigenous communities. The Statement also seeks a commitment to agreement-making between government and Indigenous groups and ‘truth-telling’ about the history of colonisation.... (read more)
To hell with what you think of me.
I’ve started drinking martinis at three.
I wake, I walk, I write, I sleep.
I snooze the alarm. I doze. I read.
At first glance, the premise of this book seems dubious. Katharine Smyth, an American woman in her mid-twenties, turns to the life and work of Virginia Woolf for solace after the death of her father. There is no doubt that Woolf writes brilliantly about death, particularly in the novel Smyth focuses on, To the Lighthouse (1927), which fictionalises the death of Woolf’s mother, Julia Stephen. But what comfort could Smyth hope to find in the work of a writer who herself refuses any of the usual consolations? After losing her mother and her elder half-sister, Stella, in her early teens, and then her father, Leslie, and her elder brother, Thoby, in her twenties, Woolf knew that there was no solace to be found. Her only comfort was that at least ‘the gods (as I used to phrase it) were taking one seriously’.... (read more)
This autobiography by Tim Costello – Baptist minister, lawyer, anti-casino activist, CEO of World Vision Australia for thirteen years – is a clear and straightforward account of his life, free of obvious literary artifice. What Costello has tried to do, he says, is to understand and explain how his memories and experiences ...... (read more)
As my plane drops down in turbulence
I think of you and of Salt Lake City,
I think of ice stealing over the Great Lakes
and of Omaha and of adamant plains.... (read more)
The most charismatic of the many monsters in Elizabeth Bryer’s début novel is the conceptual artist Maddison Worthington, who commands attention with her lipstick of ‘Mephistophelian red’ and her perfume of ‘white woods, musk and heliotrope’. From the solitude of a labyrinthine mansion ...... (read more)