Scribe

One of the most bizarre as well as unfortunate deaths in literary history occurred when the playwright Aeschylus was struck by a tortoise dropped on him by a bird. Bizarre, that is, if we don’t consider what the bird involved was doing, which was clever as well as practical. From the bird’s perspective, the tortoise was being dropped on a convenient stone rather than the bald head of a Greek tragedian who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

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It began with a request to overturn a controversial bill that would have allowed people to be extradited to mainland China. According to the bill’s many detractors, this was but the latest example of the erosion of Hong Kong’s freedoms. By June 2019, millions of Hong Kong’s residents had taken to the streets. August saw sit-ins at Hong Kong’s International Airport, and by October clashes between police and protestors were characterised by violence and chaos – tear gas, rubber bullets, arrests, and prosecutions, the norm. This was summer in Hong Kong, a city dominated by increasingly violent upheaval with the world watching on.

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Fiona Wright reviews 'The Fogging' by Luke Horton

Fiona Wright
Friday, 24 July 2020

Luke Horton’s novel The Fogging opens with a panic attack. Tom, the book’s protagonist, begins to tremble and sweat when the flight he is on – from Melbourne to Denpasar – hits turbulence. Tom is travelling with his long-term girlfriend, Clara, on a holiday they have organised more out of duty than from any real desire for travel, having booked their flights to use up his mother’s Frequent Flyer points. The turbulence wakes Tom’s ‘ringing nerves’ and anxiety starts ‘chewing his insides’, making him ‘shimmer’ and ‘pulse’. He panics, or comes close to panicking, a number of times throughout the novel. Horton’s handling of this – directly, sensorially, compassionately – is remarkable. Tom’s panic attacks are always vivid and bodily, and they always feel true to life. It’s rare to see this achieved so well in fiction.

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Neal Blewett reviews three books on Kevin Rudd

Neal Blewett
Friday, 10 July 2020

The political assassination of Kevin Rudd will fascinate for a long time to come. As with Duncan’s murder in Shakespeare’s play it was done, as Lady Macbeth cautioned, under ‘the blanket of the dark’, literally the night of 23–24 June 2010. The assassins heeded Macbeth’s advice: ‘if it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well it were done quickly.’ And as in Macbeth, the assassins were in the shadow of the throne. Even the old king approved: Bob Hawke, himself deposed in 1991, recognised at last that the removal of a Labor prime minister is sometimes necessary.

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Carmel Bird reviews 'Bereft' by Chris Womersley

Carmel Bird
Monday, 06 July 2020

World War I is lodged in the minds of Australians with mythic power. Chris Womersley, in plain and startling yet tender and lyrical prose, has constructed a moving narrative that opens up the wounds of war, laying bare the events that pre-date the conflict and reach forward into the collective memory. I was reminded of A.S. Byatt’s recent novel The Children’s Book (2009), which also foregrounds in poetic language the Great War and etches forever the horror of broken bodies and minds on the consciousness of its readers.

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Naama Grey-Smith reviews 'Rise & Shine' by Patrick Allington

Naama Grey-Smith
Tuesday, 26 May 2020

‘What is the use of saying, “Peace, Peace” when there is no peace below the diaphragm?’ asks Chinese writer Lin Yutang in The Importance of Living (1937). The subject of food and its manifestations – sustenance, communion, gluttony, longing – has claimed a place in the books of every era and genre, from heavenly manna in the Book of Exodus to starving gladiators in Suzanne Collins’s multi-billion-dollar The Hunger Games franchise. Writers as varied as Marcel Proust and Margaret Atwood have prioritised this theme in their work.

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Okay, I’ll tell you what’s wrong with this country. For a start, we have this profoundly stupid and deeply irritating myth that we’re all irreverent freedom-loving larrikins and easygoing egalitarians, when it is painfully obvious that we have long been a nation of prudes and wowsers, that our collective psyche has been warped by what Patrick Mullins describes, with his characteristic lucidity, as ‘a fear of contaminating international influences’, and that we are not just an insular, conservative, and deeply conformist society, but for some unaccountable reason we take pride in our ignorance and parochialism. And let’s not neglect the fact that we are cringingly deferential and enamoured of hierarchy. Oh yes, it’s all master–slave dialectics and daddy issues around here. Why the hell else would we keep electing entitled, smirking, condescending autocrats?

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Talking animals in fiction have, for the most part, been confined to children’s or otherwise peripheral literature. Yet they often serve a serious purpose. Aesop’s fables, with their anthropoid wolves, frogs, and ants, have been put to use as moral lessons for children since the Renaissance. The ‘it-narrative’, fashionable in eighteenth-century England and perhaps best exemplified by Francis Coventry’s History of Pompey the Little: Or, the life and adventures of a lap-dog (1752), saw various animals expatiate their suffering at human hands.

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On Boxing Day 1962, The Australian Women’s Weekly opened with a two-page spread on a new publication, Self Help for Your Nerves, by Sydney physician Dr Claire Weekes. Her four precepts for people suffering from ‘nerves’ appeared in huge, bold type: facing, accepting, floating, and letting time pass. Positive reviews followed, including one by Max Harris in ABR’s December 1962 issue. Wary of the ‘help yourself psychiatry’ genre, Harris was quickly persuaded by its ‘particular excellence’. The book went on to become a bestseller in the US and UK markets, and Weekes followed it up with four more.

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Twenty years ago, Robert Tickner tried his hand at the nuanced art of political memoir. Taking a Stand (2001) was, he said, ‘an insider’s account of momentous initiatives’ in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs portfolio in the 1990s. A portrait of the politician as a young man, son, father, and husband was not in the offing. Cabinet diarist Neal Blewett, a man not renowned for political flamboyance, described Tickner’s narrative as ‘remorselessly impersonal’. Privately, it seems, Tickner also protested that ‘the public me is not the real me!’

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