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On the face of it, this book represents a strange project: to elaborate for the reader’s consideration the moral beliefs of a man whom the author judges (and judged in advance, one suspects) to be shallow, inconsistent, lacking moral and intellectual sobriety, and to have failed so often to act on the moral principles he repeatedly professes that he can fairly be accused of hypocrisy ... 

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Geography by Sophie Cunningham

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April 2004, no. 260

The first book of fiction is a little sub-genre with a number of readily recognisable features. It’s loosely structured and tends to be episodic, without much of a plot. It’s at least partly about love and sex, preferably of an obsessive or otherwise significant kind. And it’s at least partly autobiographical. If it’s already a bad book, then these things do tend to make it worse, but if it isn’t, then they don’t necessarily detract; it’s not a value judgement, just an observation.

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Anyone who heard Inga Clendinnen’s 1999 Boyer Lectures or who has listened to her in any other way will hear her voice clearly in this book: contemplative, reflective, warm, gently paced. Dancing with Strangers seems to have been written as if it were meant to be read aloud. It reaches out to its listeners ...

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John Scott began his publishing life as a poet of considerable distinction (albeit as John A. Scott, as the second edition of The Oxford Companion to Australian Literature will not let him forget) and then changed brumbies in midstream to publish pure prose. Between 1975 and 1990 Scott delivered eight volumes of poetry; since then (there is a slight overlap), he has released five ‘novels’ (pardon nomenclatural nerves), if we include the present Warra Warra.

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Paris has gone crazy.’ There are people everywhere; ‘players and officials have been arriving like migrating birds’. The German team – including Hermann Hesse, Bertolt Brecht, Walter Gropius,Thomas Mann, Martin Heidegger ...

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In 1978 the writer John McPhee, accompanied some geologists on a field trip to the American West, and in order to express their insights into the vast processes that had formed the present landscape, he coined the evocative and durable term ‘deep time’. With a sharp Australian eye, Tim Flannery has now done the same for the entire continent in this remarkably ambitious yet highly readable book. As an active research palaeontologist, he has a profound sense of the history of his discipline, and has the ability vividly and sometimes whimsically to put himself and the reader into the places of discovery and into the mindsets of the often testy pioneers in this fossil game.

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Tiger’s Eye by Inga Clendinnen

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April 2000, no. 219

Ten years ago, when she was in her early fifties, Inga Clendinnen fell ill with a disease of the liver that would have killed her if transplant surgery had not improved in time to save her life. In hospital she began to write, as much to hold herself together as for any other reason. Without a trace of self-pity she tells of the frightening first symptoms of her illness, its diagnosis and the initial gloomy prognosis, her times in hospitals, her responses to the hospital, to other patients and to that special group of ‘comrades’ who have suffered the same illness and its awesome treatment.

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The Holocaust is a subject which numbs the mind and petrifies the soul. This is the point at which Inga Clendinnen starts her remarkable set of essays about it. The Holocaust is a Gorgon and the only way to destroy it, Perseus-like, is to hold it’s image on the screen of the shield and stare back. The historian of The Aztecs, this remarkable woman who has always attended to the inflections of human pain, says at the outset that extreme suffering should be paid attention. She has lived in interesting times without partaking of the horror and this is her amends. This remarkable exercise in metahistory, this sustained meditation about the nature of historiography – an essay in which criticism and representation keep coming together and breaking apart – began with Clendinnen’s sense of the inadequacy of her own response to the Demidenko controversy and it ends, not inappropriately, with a discussion of the relative claims of literature and historical writing in the face of the Holocaust Medusa.

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Murray Bail has passed muster as an important Australian novelist for quite a while now.  His 1980 novel Homesickness, with its sustained parodic conceit of Australian tourists forever entering the prefab theme park, rather than its ‘real’ original, was an early national venture into what might have been postmodernism. Holden's Performance, a good time later ...

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Nice Try by Shane Maloney

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June 1998, no. 201

Murray Whelan – Labor Party fixer, spin doctor, branch-stacker, deal broker and, above all, true believer (his son’s middle name is Evatt) – returns for another tilt at the system in this entertaining and highly successful series. Presumably, our aptly named anti-hero was once good at his job, because these days everything he touches goes pear-shaped before you can say ‘travel rort’ or ‘credit card’. It isn’t necessarily his fault, but blame must attach somewhere in politics. Well-intentioned though he is, Murray is incurably prone to accidents and bad luck. If there is a banana skin within coo-ee, he will slip on it; if there is a dumpster in the vicinity, he will end up inside it. He is, in short, the bunny, a virtuous paragon of hapless endeavour. With Murray Whelan on the case, a policy initiative soon becomes an exercise in damage control.

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