Chatto & Windus

David Malouf’s fiction has been justly celebrated for its veracity. His prose, at once lyrical and precise, has an extraordinary capacity to evoke what a character in an early story called the ‘grainy reality’ of life. For Malouf, small concrete details convey a profound understanding of the defining power of memory. He has a strong sense of the way the most mundane object can embody the past, how its shape or texture can send us back to a specific time and place and mood, just as Proust summons a flood of memory from the aroma of a madeleine dipped in tea. This tangible quality to memory is essential to our sense of self. The prisoners of war in The Great World (1990), for example, cling to their memories as a bulwark against the potentially overwhelming horror of their experiences. They treasure anything, however small, that provides a physical link with home, knowing that these relics help them to reconstruct the past and thus retain a grip on their identity and their sanity.

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Back in 1964 before I left the University of Tasmania, Amanda Howard (now Lohrey) introduced me to a serious, nondescript first-year student who, she told me, would go far. Twenty years later Peter Conrad is a Fellow at Christ Church, Oxford, and author of a number of well-regarded books on literature, opera, and television, with a reputation established on both sides of the Atlantic.

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Laurie Clancy reviews 'Harland’s Half Acre' by David Malouf

Laurie Clancy
Friday, 20 December 2019

Apart from the theme of growth and adolescence (with which it often merges), perhaps the most common preoccupation of Australian novelists is the progress of a young man (usually) or woman towards artistic achievement and fulfilment. Frequently the field of art is pictorial. Patrick White’s The Vivisector, Thea Astley’s The Acolyte, Tony Morphett’s Thorskeld, and Barbara Hanrahan’s The Scent of Eucalyptus and Kewpie Doll, to name only those, all deal in some form or other with a painter of either actual or potential genius. It is, of course, one of the classic themes of twentieth-century fiction everywhere, but its pervasiveness among our writers suggests a self­conscious need to articulate the Australian experience and identity. Who better than the great artist to do it?

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The memoirs of any barrister still in harness are, by definition, advertising. The mystery of The Justice Game is what on earth Geoffrey Robertson needs to sell. He is much too busy already. A queue of life’s victims wanting his help in court would stretch twice round the Temple. But drumming up business is not what the book is about. Its real purpose, I suspect, is to show that, despite a certain radical reputation, Robertson is a sound man.

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Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir are both mythical figures. They are also a mythical couple, a symbol of lifelong intellectual and personal commitment to each other and to commonly espoused causes. Of the two, Beauvoir is probably the more widely read today, because of her foundational role in the development of feminism, and the relative accessibility of her writing. In comparison, Sartre’s work, with the exception of his elegantly self-mocking autobiography, Les Mots (1966), is more difficult. His opus is as eclectic as it is voluminous – covering philosophy, prose fiction, theatre, political essays and literary criticism – and it is often dense. With Beauvoir, the reader is always in the presence of a person; with Sartre, we witness above all a mind at work, a brilliant intelligence grappling with whatever problem or issue it has decided to take on. In both cases, their work had a profound impact, mirroring and inspiring fundamental changes in thought and mores. Sartre and Beauvoir shared a philosophy – which went, somewhat loosely, under the name of existentialism – that held that human individuals and societies had the capacity to determine their own destiny, free of the weight of history and tradition. In the wake of World War II, and in the context of the ideological stalemate and nuclear threats of the Cold War, this philosophy of possibility and freedom offered an alternative to the ambient pessimism. It promised not passive resistance but transformative action by and for a humanity willing to create its own future.

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Margaret John reviews 'The Doubleman' by C.J Koch

Margaret John
Monday, 07 October 2019

C.J. Koch in this powerful and evocative novel, The Double Man, has applied a psychoanalytic model of human personality to fairytales and the fantastical world of myth: the pursuit of illusion as reality. Its ingenious double life is that of a modern-day fairy tale coupled with the face of 1960s man, paralysed with the despair of his era: its inability to cope with the breakdown of shared values and beliefs. Richard Miller is both the prince of the archetypal fairytale and the prototype of modern man trying to create a private reality out of ancestral beliefs. The Double Man recalls W.B. Yeats’s dread of the ‘rough beast…its hour come round at last’, and the warnings of Goethe who foresaw a time of such chaos: when odd spiritual leaders would emerge and man would turn full circle to find popular truth in ancient myths and legends.

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Beejay Silcox reviews 'The Testaments' by Margaret Atwood

Beejay Silcox
Monday, 07 October 2019

There was never any question that The Testaments, Margaret Atwood’s coda to The Handmaid’s Tale (1985), would be a gargantuan blockbuster, a publishing Godzilla. Giddily hyped and fiercely embargoed, bookshops across the world counted down the minutes until midnight on September 10 (GMT), when the envy-green volume ...

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Gerard Windsor reviews 'The Great World' by David Malouf

Gerard Windsor
Tuesday, 06 August 2019

Initial appearances notwithstanding, The Great World is not a grand, epic title. It is a phrase of the wide-eyed naäf, gaping at the wondrous, which is anything beyond his experience, especially any tawdry, flashy concoction. In fact, David Malouf’s primary ‘great world’ is an entertainment park of that name in Singapore where ...

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