University of Queensland Press

This is John A. Scott’s sixth collection of poems since 1975. The volume is slim but not thin. Each poem encompasses its observation, reflection, or moment from which departures are measured, as the positives and negatives of ‘delicious solitude’ are weighed. Amid urban blues, bar-speak, team games and the distorting foci of others’ projections, the ‘predicate adjective alone’ evokes either dignity, pathos, or something in between. Scott considers the prospects.

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Soul-searching about our past is the new literary fashion. It is the period in which the breast-beaters, the moral Pharisees, are driven to tell us how, unlike their predecessors, they have political and moral virtue. The Aborigines, women and ordinary people have become the ‘goodies’, and all those who ignored them in their books or their teaching have become the ‘baddies’. The winds of change are blowing over the ancient continent.

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From short stories Peter Carey has proceeded to long novels. This is his third. It is dense with incident and meticulously delineated characters who drop in and out of the narrative, always with a purpose. In some ways it is as surreal as Bliss, in others as naturalistic as Illywacker ...

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The Walls of Jericho by Julie Lewis & The Wild Dogs by Peter Skrzynecki

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August 1987, no, 93

At various times in its history, the Australian short story has been predictable, as editorial and public appetites have limited experimentation. I am glad to be reading now, when approval can be conferred on collections as different and as variously excellent as Julie Lewis’s The Walls of Jericho and Peter Skrzynecki’s The Wild Dogs. Lewis’s work is more formally experimental than Skrzynecki’s, but both collections offer insight into the social and the literary.

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Michael Sariban has provided us with a new and memorable collection of poetry. In 1984, the Queensland Community Press produced At the Institute for Total Recall, which met with an enthusiastic response.

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Circles of Faces by Mary Dadswell & Self Possession by Marion Halligan

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July 1987, no. 92

In her autobiographical sketch One Writer’s Beginnings, Eudora Welty wrote of her mother: ‘But I think she was relieved when I chose to be a writer of stories, for she thought writing was safe.’ Can you just imagine the shock on Chestina Welty’s face when she read, as she must have, this sentence tucked away into the middle of one of her daughter’s first stories: ‘When he finally looked down there was blood everywhere; her lap was like a bowl.’ 

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Subtle-tasting experience, dating back more than ten years, has made me suspicious of ideologues who take pen to comment on Their Own. Whether they’re, say, reviewing the fiction or writing the history of Their Own, the continuing good of the Cause tends to be a primary consideration. So my sceptical heart sank when I heard that the biography of James Duhig, Catholic Archbishop in Brisbane from 1912 to 1965, was being written by Father T.P. Boland, a priest of that diocese.

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Dreamhouse by Kate Grenville

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October 1986, no. 85

Dreamhouse, written before the wonderful Lilian’s Story (1984 Vogel winner), was the Vogel runner-up in 1983. Kate Grenville’s writing in this novel is clear-headed, strong, both witty and humorous, and above all lifts the imagination high. Dreamhouse wins my ‘Chortle, Gasp’ Prize for black comedy incorporating a design award for ‘best romantic fiction parody’ (it could have been called A Summer in Tuscany). It’s a darkly delightful book to read. Subversion of romantic expectations is immediate, ingenious, and horribly funny. Louise Dufrey is one half of an unlovely couple whose marriage looks perfect but is actually defunct.

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Professor Hassall’s study of Randolph Stow is indeed a strange country. A text which sets out to establish Stow as ‘a more important writer than is generally recognized’ and to show that his ‘best work bears comparison with Patrick White’s’ promises an intellectual engagement with either critics or the text or both which would lead to reassessment of Stow’s work. It appears that these are Aunt Sally’s – although Professor Leonie Kramer, who is presented as one of Stow’s ‘sterner “realist” critics’, can hardly be seen as such an aunt. Hassall puts her up but barely touches her, leaving the counterargument to Dorothy Green. Perhaps he’s being gentlemanly. However, to quote a paragraph from Green which asserts that ‘One of the greatest weaknesses of Australian criticism has always been its refusal to take religious ideas seriously’ is to take advantage of the lady. Hassall needs to fight his own battle against Leonie Kramer’s judgement of Stow’s work as being ‘quasi-religious’ and misguidedly experimental.

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‘We assume, of course, that we are masters and not servants of facts,’ observes T.S. Eliot in an early essay, ‘and that we know that the discovery of Shakespeare’s laundry bills would not be of much use to us’. The sentence continues, still flickering between amusement and seriousness, futility of the research which has discovered them, in the possibility that some genius will appear who knows of a use to which to put them’. If he had lived a decade or so longer, Eliot may have smiled to hear of the furore which attended the publication of Nietzsche’s unpublished manuscripts, including his laundry bills. And while he may not have been entirely amused by Jacques Derrida’s essay, Éperons, partly prompted by this publication, Eliot would doubtless have agreed with one of the theoretical points that was made: it is impossible to tell for sure which of an author’s writings do not belong to his or her oeuvre.

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