Steven Carroll

Early in Steven Carroll’s novel Goodnight, Vivienne, Goodnight, a middle-aged woman contemplates her own existence: ‘Vivienne, Vivie. Viv. Now distant, now near. Who was she? The Vivienne now sitting in the gardens of Northumberland House, Finsbury Park, is contemplating the question.’ This Viv is Vivienne Haigh-Wood, the first wife of T.S. Eliot – or Carroll’s fictional rendition of her. Northumberland House is an asylum where, by 1940, Viv has lived for several years. Her previous actions include not accepting the end of her relationship with Eliot, dabbling in fascism (‘Did you tell him I just liked the uniform?’), and asking a police officer at five one morning if it’s true her husband has been beheaded. Institutionalised, she now lives in quiet defiance of other people’s perceptions and diagnoses of her. And with the help of her friend Louise and a group called the Lunacy Law Reform Society, she is about to do a runner.

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O by Steven Carroll

by
April 2021, no. 430

On the back cover of O, we learn that the protagonist of the novel, Dominique, lived through the German occupation of France, participated in the Resistance, relished its ‘clandestine life’, and later wrote an ‘erotic novel about surrender, submission and shame’, which became the real-life international bestseller and French national scandal, Histoire d’O (1954). ‘But what is the story really about,’ the blurb asks, ‘Dominique, her lover, or the country and the wartime past it would rather forget?’

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In his 2017 essay ‘Notes for a Novel’, illuminatingly added as a kind of afterword at the end of this book, Steven Carroll recalls a dream that he had twenty years ago. It was this dream, he says, that grew into a series of novels centred on the Melbourne suburb of Glenroy, a series of which this novel is the sixth and last. It was ...

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In his fiction, Steven Carroll stretches and slows time. He combines this with deliberate over-explaining and repetition, the echoing of memories and ideas, coincidence, and theatricality. A distinctive rhythm results: when reading his work, I often find myself nodding in time to the words. Occasionally – and it happens now and again in his new novel, A New En ...

Most Australians, if asked to name a date they associate with the name Gough Whitlam, would say ‘11 November 1975’. Steven Carroll subverts this expectation at the outset ... ... (read more)

Private Eye said of Stephen Spender that he wasn’t so much famous as that he knew a lot of famous people. They might have said the same of John Hayward. His editorial and scholarly work notwithstanding, it’s doubtful that a biography of him would have been written had it not been for his close friendship with the premier poet of ...

Novels have been appearing in the last decade or so in which one or more of the characters are actual historical figures, often themselves writers, appearing in propria persona, not considerately disguised and renamed, as Horace Skimpole was in Bleak House, for example. Perhaps the most notorious instance in recent years is Virginia Woolf in Michael Cunningham’s The Hours (1998), made even more memorable by Nicole Kidman’s prosthetic nose in the film thereof. Cunningham, who would appear to have known when he was onto a good thing, deployed Walt Whitman similarly in his novel Specimen Days (2005). To give this development a local habitation and a name, we need go no further than Ashley Hay’s The Body in the Clouds (2010) to find the historical Lieutenant William Dawes, after whom Dawes Point in Sydney is named, playing a considerable role.

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The idea for The Art of the Engine Driver came from a dream of my old street. It was so vivid – virtual, you might say – that I abandoned the project I had in mind and followed the dream.

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At the beginning of Steven Carroll’s new novel, Spirit of Progress, Michael stands on a platform of the Gare Montparnasse in Paris. Readers of Carroll’s ‘Glenroy’ trilogy will remember that Michael is Vic and Rita’s son – a boy who grew up with an unblinking grasp of his parents’ fractured marriage and who learned early to fend for himself. Now a man, Michael observes the foreign trains and reminisces about his father’s love of engine driving. He realises then that his home suburb ‘will always claim him’ and that he has ‘a whole world inside his head … complete and vast, going about its daily life, constantly moving as if alive and still evolving’ (ellipsis in original).

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Steven Carroll’s The Time We Have Taken is the latest in his trilogy – with The Art of the Engine Driver (2001), The Gift of Speed (2004) – about a northern suburb of Melbourne. Referred to only as ‘the suburb’, this anonymity serves to make it a universal place on the fringes of any Australian city ...

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