Text Publishing

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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Harold Bloom’s comment on one of Poe’s stories that ‘the tale somehow is stronger than the telling’ came to mind during my reading of the nineteenth century mystery, The Murder of Madeline Brown. In spite of unevenness in the writing and some irritating Latin affectations, the story has a haunting quality which lingered long after the reading.

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The note from Text’s publicist read: ‘Hope you enjoy this.’ I did. I did. (I read it twice.) The note continued: ‘There’s no other Australian novel quite like it.’ I couldn’t quite bring myself to agree with that. Garry Satherley’s (as in ‘satherley buster’, no doubt) first novel suggests, to my perhaps over-convoluted consciousness, Murray Bail’s Homesickness, Anthony Macris’ Capital: Volume 1, Glenda Adams’ Dancing on Coral and, drawing a long bow, Henry Handel Richardson. I will let Text Publishing and anyone else interested chase up the resemblances, which are casual rather than causal. That The Arch-Traitor’s Lament more pertinently suggested to me Czech novelists such as Josef Škvorecký and Ivan Klíma, for example, was a different matter, they not being Australian, and they have earned their right to their political fictions on the decks of those two dreadnoughts, hardship and censorship. That was my grumpy not-quite-convinced first reading. My second reading convinced me that Satherley was doing something quite different from the Iron Curtain callers. He was writing an Australian novel (well, he was born in New Zealand, but we are masters of ethnic appropriation across the Tasman) with European facts and fictions as pan of its subject matter.

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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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