SA contributor

Kerryn Goldsworthy reviews 'Damascus' by Christos Tsiolkas

Kerryn Goldsworthy
Monday, 16 December 2019

The man traditionally held to have written about half of the New Testament is variously known as Saul of Tarsus, Paul the Apostle, and St Paul. Initially an enthusiastic persecutor of the earliest Christians, he underwent a dramatic conversion shortly after the Crucifixion, and it is on this moment that his life, and Christos Tsiolkas’s new novel, both turn. Damascus covers the period 35–87 ce, from shortly before Paul’s conversion until twenty or more years after his death. This chronology is not straightforwardly linear, with an assortment of narrators recounting their personal experiences, at various times and from various points of view, of Christianity’s birth and spread amid the brutal realities of the Roman Empire.

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Australian nature writing has come a long way in recent years. Not only do we have an abundance of contemporary nature writers, but we are also rediscovering the ones we have forgotten. The neglect of Australia’s nature writing history, with its contributions to science, literature, and conservation, is happily being redressed with recent biographies of Jean Galbraith, Rica Erickson, Edith Coleman, and now a new biography of Alec Chisholm.

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The Innocent Reader, Debra Adelaide’s collection of essays reflecting on the value of reading and the writing life, also works as a memoir. Part I, ‘Reading’, moves from childhood memories of her parents’ Reader’s Digest Condensed Books to discovering J.R.R. Tolkien and other books in the local library, and to the variable guidance of teachers at school and university. Its centrepiece is the powerful essay ‘No Endings No Endings No’, which juxtaposes the shock of discovering that her youngest child has cancer with her grief at the death of Thea Astley in 2004. The last words of Astley’s final novel, Drylands (1999) give this essay its title. Adelaide draws out the hope that they suggest as she tells how reading – aloud to her son in hospital, and to herself when he was too ill to listen – enabled her to survive this terrible time.

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In their earliest incarnations, fairy tales are gruesome stories riddled with murder, cannibalism, and mutilation. Written in early seventeenth-century Italy, Giambattista Basile’s Cinderella snaps her stepmother’s neck with the lid of a trunk. This motif reappears in the nineteenth-century German ‘The Juniper Tree’, but this time the stepmother wields the trunk lid, decapitating her husband’s young son. In seventeenth-century France, Charles Perrault’s Bluebeard kills his many wives because of their curiosity, while in his adaptation of ‘Sleeping Beauty’, the Queen’s appetite for eating children drives her to commit suicide out of shame. Jealous, Snow White’s stepmother (and in some versions her biological mother) wants to kill the girl and eat her innards, but is ultimately thwarted; her punishment is to dance herself to death wearing red-hot iron shoes.

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Australians and New Zealanders know it as the Tasman Sea or more familiarly The Ditch: for Māori, Te Tai o-Rēhua. Significant islands in this stretch of water are Lord Howe and Norfolk. As seen from New Zealand, the island most Australians probably don’t know offhand and, when they are told about it, might feel inclined to reject its name as, well, cheeky: it’s West Island – Australia in short.

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Shannon Burns reviews 'Ducks, Newburyport' by Lucy Ellmann

Shannon Burns
Friday, 25 October 2019

Lucy Ellmann’s ambitious seventh novel stages the workings of a mind as it digests – or fails to digest – life-altering experiences. Ducks, Newburyport is, for the most part, the ruminating inner monologue of a bewildered and frightened woman. It spans a thousand mostly artful pages and is an undeniably impressive accomplishment. However, for readers who relished Ellmann’s brilliant comic novels, Ducks may lack the energising charge – absurd, erotic, and darkly funny – that is so satisfyingly prominent in her earlier work.

Its chief narrator is a well-educated American mother of four afflicted by sharp anxiety. Her concerns include: the existence of President Trump; repeated  mass shootings; the threat of nuclear war or climate catastrophe; male violence; and precarious health care. Her inner life is expansive but oriented around  a handful of personal wounds, many of which are recast in the parallel story of a hunted lioness in search of her babes. Leaving aside a memorable sexual encounter, the latter resembles a children’s fable, a similarity that is knowingly signalled when the narrator recalls ‘some Disney movie about an escaped lion that wonders around some town’.

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Artist’s Statement from Brenda L. Croft

Brenda L. Croft
Tuesday, 30 July 2019

Brenda L. Croft is from the Gurindji/Malngin/Mudburra peoples from the Victoria River region of the Northern Territory of Australia, and Anglo-Australian/German/Irish/Chinese heritage. She has been involved in the Australian First Nations and broader contemporary arts and cultural sectors for more than three decades as an artist, arts administrator, curator, academic, and consultant ...

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In 2013, Matthew Condon published Three Crooked Kings, the first in his true crime series delving into the murky, sordid, and often brutal world of police corruption in Queensland.  That year, he wrote in Australian Book Review that, after finishing his trilogy,  he planned to ‘swan dive into the infinitely more comfortable genre of fiction’ ...

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In its interrogation and negotiation of contemporary theoretical frameworks and practices at the core of the Italian–Australian migration complex, Francesco Ricatti’s comprehensive study offers a fresh and lucid understanding of the interrelation of core issues and processes affecting ...

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Patrick Allington reviews Bodies of Men by Nigel Featherstone

Patrick Allington
Monday, 22 July 2019

From its raw and revelatory prologue, Nigel Featherstone’s novel Bodies of Men offers a thoroughly humanising depiction of Australians during World War II. In telling the story of two soldiers, William – too young to be a corporal – and his childhood friend ...

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