Essays

In his 1980 bibliography of Bernard Smith’s published works, Australian Art and Architecture (1980), Tony Bradley lists, exclusive of books, well over 200 articles, book reviews, and other miscellaneous items. Allowing for articles written after 1980 and four previously unpublished, The Critic as Advocate contains sixty works from Bradley’s list. Previous collections of Smith’s essays, The Antipodean Manifesto (1976) and The Death of the Artist as Hero (1988) each contains about twenty republished essays – leaving Smith still with over a hundred for future recycling. If this is to be the case it is perhaps well to look at the value or otherwise of this type of enterprise.

... (read more)

One of the pleasures of reviewing a book is reading it slowly, paying attention to the rhythms and its author’s intentions, impulses, and indulgences. Reading is always a conversation between writer and reader. A major collection like Life: Selected writings takes this experience to a new level. This is not just a conversation between a writer now and a reader now, but a writer then, his choices now, the sum of those choices as arrayed in a substantial blue volume, and the reader with a ‘long now’ to luxuriate in the exchange.

... (read more)

Tom Carment the artist, writer, and man makes a perfectly integrated whole. Carment is a compact, casually neat figure who looks through round-lensed glasses and has a calm stillness even when he’s on the move, as he often is. His art and writing are also on a small scale, intimately observant, informal, and warmly appealing. He has exhibited his paintings and drawings for more than four decades and has written for almost as long, occasionally for publication and often in private. As he said at his book launch, he used to pour most of his thoughts into letters, including one he found recently that ran to thirty-eight pages.

... (read more)

The World of Charmian Clift is a selection of the weekly columns she wrote for the Sydney Morning Herald’s women’s pages. They date from 1964, the year that she, George Johnston, and their children returned from Greece, up to her tragic suicide in 1969. Clift herself selected most of the essays for the book, which was first published posthumously in 1970, not long before George Johnston’s death from tuberculosis.

... (read more)

A young George Seddon smiles boyishly from the cover of his Selected Writings, a mid-twentieth-century nerd with short back and sides and horn-rimmed glasses. This collection of Seddon’s writings on landscape, place, and the environment is the third in the series on Australian thinkers published by La Trobe University Press in conjunction with Black Inc. The other two, Hugh Stretton and Donald Horne, were also on mid-century men.

... (read more)

Reading good science writing is not just pleasurable and informative: it’s also necessary if we want to live engaged and examined lives in today’s hyper-technological, climate-changing world. The Best Australian Science Writing 2019 offers readers all these things – the delight in good writing, the satisfaction of learning, and the sobering reckoning with our society’s environmental impact and lack of political engagement with science. Yet it’s not afraid to challenge science itself on occasion – showing ‘its flaws as well as its finer moments’, as editor Bianca Nogrady puts it.

... (read more)

Johanna Leggatt reviews 'Coventry: Essays' by Rachel Cusk

Johanna Leggatt
Friday, 22 November 2019

Two years before Rachel Cusk published the first novel in her acclaimed Outline Trilogy (2014–18), she wrote a searing account of her divorce, entitled ‘Aftermath: On Marriage and Separation’, which ignited a brouhaha in her homeland, the United Kingdom. The dramatic excoriation of marital life aroused apoplexy among critics and readers; they bristled at Cusk’s subjective and one-sided storytelling, as if any other account of divorce were possible. It wasn’t the first time Cusk’s work had raised eyebrows: her memoir, A Life’s Work: On becoming a mother (2001), offended many a book-club member with its frank and unflattering descriptions of motherhood.

... (read more)

Andrew McGahan’s first novel, Praise (1992), concludes with its narrator, Gordon Buchanan, deciding – perhaps accepting is a better word – that he will live a life of contemplation. This final revelation is significantly ambivalent. The unresponsive persona Gordon has assumed throughout the novel is something of an affectation. On one level, he is playing the stereotypical role of the inarticulate Australian male, but his blank façade is also defensive; it is a cover for his sensitivity. For Gordon, life is less overwhelming in a practical sense than in an emotional sense. His true feelings are a garden concreted over for ease of maintenance. He feels that the defining quality of human relationships is doubt, and this doubt confounds expression. ‘I’m never certain of anything I feel about a person,’ he says, ‘and talking about it simplifies it all so brutally. It’s easier to keep quiet. To act what you feel. Actions are softer. They can be interpreted in lots of different ways, and emotions should be interpreted in lots of different ways.’

... (read more)

Bruce Pascoe’s Salt is a wonderfully eclectic collection of new works and earlier short fiction, literary non-fiction, and essays written over twenty years. Structured thematically across six themes – Country, Lament, Seawolves, Embrasure, Tracks, and Culture Lines – Salt moves between the past and the present with Pascoe’s distinctively poetic voice. Readers of Dark Emu (2014) and Convincing Ground (2007) will be familiar with the style and subject matter but will discover newly released or reworked gems.

The title speaks to memories and ghosts triggered by the smell of salt; its ability to clean, to render flesh and skin from bone, to preserve evidence, to signal cumulative impacts on Country. The prevalence of salt speaks to the power and closeness of sea Country and our dwindling salty river systems, increasingly threatened by human intervention. Pascoe’s characters are richly drawn from this salted earth and exposed to the light and the elements. Whether presented as fiction or the voices of shared histories, his characters are grounded within the seasons and Country. So, too, in Pascoe’s view, are their possibilities of reviving this salted earth through heeding Indigenous knowledge and experience.

... (read more)

Clive James once said that the problem with being famous is that you begin by being loved for what you do and end up thinking that you are loved for who you are. Quite possibly, it is to avoid such a fate that James has returned in the past few years to the thing that got him noticed in the first place – writing dazzling prose. Absenting himself from the Crystal Bucket, he has become once more a full-time writer, popping up in the Times Literary Supplement and Australian Book Review with gratifying regularity. The title of his latest collection of essays refers to its first and final pieces, both of which deal with the crucial difference between celebrity and recognition, a subject currently dear to his heart, partly for the reason outlined above, partly because the current media is saturated with noisy nonentities. Since James is no doubt frequently recognised by people ignorant of the very achievement for which he really deserves recognition, his thoughts on the subject are clearly invaluable.

... (read more)
Page 2 of 4