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In the swampy heat of a Brisbane summer in 1986, a young bookshop assistant tries to solve a fifty-year-old mystery involving Inga Karlson, a legendary New York author who died in a warehouse fire in 1939. Caddie Walker, the bookseller, is idealistic enough to believe that books can change people’s lives ...

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When Clare Wright’s new history, You Daughters of Freedom: The Australians who won the vote and inspired the world, landed in my mailbox, I opened it with some trepidation. It was big, a fact I now realise I should have expected but nevertheless a somewhat disheartening one – arriving as it did at the beginning of our lambing season on the farm. It sat on the kitchen table, slightly out of place beside tractor catalogues, long-term rainfall predictions (depressing), and pamphlets advertising ram sales.

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If the past is a foreign country, the distant past is a very foreign one indeed. Tim Flannery’s new book takes us deep into the prehistory of Europe. Climbing aboard the time machine that he repeatedly invites us to use, we glimpse pygmy dinosaurs and terrifying terminator pigs the size of cows ...

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To complement our 2017 ‘Books of the Year’, we invited several senior publishers to nominate their favourite books – all published by other companies.

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Barbara Kingsolver, praising the skill required to write a memorable short story, described the form as entailing ‘the successful execution of large truths delivered in tight spaces’. Her description certainly applies to Jennifer Down’s wonderful début collection, Pulse Points. Using the typical strategies of suggestion, ambiguity, and inconclusivene ...

A rich vein of political writing runs through Australian fiction. From the early days of socialist realism, through the anti-colonialism of both black and white writers, to tough explorations of identity politics today, we have struggled with concepts of justice and equality since Federation ...

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The epigraph to the first chapter of Eva Hornung’s The Last Garden speaks of Nebelung, a time of great prosperity, joy, and hope for new life. Over the page, Hornung shatters any sense of well-being with an extraordinary opening sentence: ‘On a mild Nebelung’s afternoon, Matthias Orion, having lived as an exclamation mark in the Wahrheit settlement an ...

An epigraph from Mary Ruefle’s Madness, Rack, and Honey: Collected lectures (2012) sets the tone of Libby Angel’s novel, The Trapeze Act ‘what is the moment but a fragment of greater time?’ This book is composed of fragments, which, taken together, capture the desire for a complete understanding of history and the impossibility of satisfyin ...

The Mystery of the Venus Island Fetish by Dido Butterworth, edited and introduced by Tim Flannery

by
March 2015, no. 369

It is 1932 and as the SS Mokambo steams into Sydney Harbour with Archie Meek on board, the Australian Museum’s young anthropologist is about to discover that he has committed a terrible faux pas. After five years away in the Venus islands studying the customs and culture of its head-hunting inhabitants, Meek is eager to be reunited with Beatrice Goodenough, the beautiful but sheltered registrar of the museum’s anthropology department. In true island fashion, Meek has accompanied his request for her hand in marriage with the sincerest love token a man can proffer. Unfortunately, on receipt of his dried foreskin, lovingly posted, Goodenough fails to respond as a Venus Island maiden would. A younger, weedier Meek might have been ready to crumple at such rejection, but the hesitant stripling of nineteen is now a bronzed hunk of twenty-four, ready to claim Beatrice as his own despite the misfiring of his culturally specific courtship ritual.

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Authentically owning a character’s experience is one of the great challenges faced by fiction writers, especially when it is something as intensely felt as living with terminal illness. It is testimony to A.J. Betts’s talent that she does so in Zac & Mia without lapsing into melodrama, rather, maintaining a voice that is youthful, contemporary, ...