Kate Llewellyn has written sixteen books, which is quite an achievement. They include poetry, fiction and autobiography. One book, The Waterlily (1987), has sold 30,000 copies, a notable accomplishment for any author. The Waterlily was the first book in Llewellyn’s Blue Mountains trilogy; the second was called Dear You (1988). I read it years ago, having borrowed it from a library because I suspected the title might be an indication of the tone. It was not the epistolary format that gave me pause: I have relished many correspondences, ranging from the passionate exchanges of Julie and St Preux in Rousseau’s Julie ou la Nouvelle Héloïse (1761) to Robert Dessaix’s grapplings with life-threatening illness in his acclaimed Night Letters (1996). But for my taste, the series of missives beginning ‘Dear You’ betrayed an irritating archness. The author seemed to be caught between the heady excitement of Revealing All and a coy fear of saying Too Much.... (read more)
At the age of twenty, Peter Conrad slammed his Australian door shut behind him. He was travelling into the ‘wider world’, away from his native Tasmania to take up his Rhodes scholarship at Oxford; he went with barely a backwards glance. Growing up as an omnivorous reader of English literature in the years of what he has called his ‘colonial childhood’, the young Conrad had become increasingly resentful at the perverse randomness of his exile. What he could only think of as an administrative error had relegated him to an Australia that seemed vacant and vacuous. When his time came, he ruthlessly withdrew his affection from parents and country. This snake-like shedding of skin was his liberation. Crossing Waterloo Bridge in August 1968, he had – like Wordsworth before him – a moment of epiphany. As the bridge ‘ran out into the Aldwych in a sunny crux of blue dust’, the young Conrad passed innocuously through the door by which he stepped into life. In confessional mode, he later celebrated this as the exact moment of his birth. That was when the years of his Australian youth were cancelled out, relegated to a phase of mere ‘pre-existence’.... (read more)
Literature inspired by drugs tends to swing between extremes. On the one hand, drugs are the very doors of perception, gateways to Xanadu; on the other they are a source of grim addictions, lotus plants that tempt one into indefinite living sleep. In recent decades there have been the highs of William S. Burroughs, Tom Wolfe, Hunter S. Thompson and Irvine Welsh, but rarer are those memoirists with experiences of addiction and philosophy who can reflect on the subject in the tradition of Thomas De Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium-Eater (1821). Well, cue Chris Fleming’s On Drugs.... (read more)
This autobiography by Tim Costello – Baptist minister, lawyer, anti-casino activist, CEO of World Vision Australia for thirteen years – is a clear and straightforward account of his life, free of obvious literary artifice. What Costello has tried to do, he says, is to understand and explain how his memories and experiences ...... (read more)
At seven o’clock on the morning of 2 February 1999, I was due at the Memorial Hospital in North Adelaide to relieve my older sister at my mother’s bedside, where she had been all night. The alarm was set for six. At five-thirty, I was woken by the phone; my mother had died, as we had known for a couple of days that she would, from complications following a cerebral haemorrhage.... (read more)
It’s the silence. Even by the river, my ears are straining. It’s the silence. At this moment it’s a warmish humid silence with the grass outside lushly mesmerising the eye.... (read more)
It’s a Proustian title, or at any rate a Powellian one, that Bernard Smith has produced for this memoir of his life in the long-ago 1940s, and, yes, there on the cover is Anthony Powell’s hero, Poussin. That’s doubly appropriate because one of the more vivid figures (though also one of the more saturnine ones) in this remembrance of things past is Anthony Blunt, great scholar of Poussin’s work, master spy, eminent director of the Courtauld and critical educator of the Young Bernard.... (read more)
‘The characters which survive,’ wrote Hilary McPhee at seventeen in the copy of Thomas Hardy’s The Return of the Native that she studied in her tiny matriculation class at Colac High in 1958, ‘are those who make some compromise with their surroundings ...... (read more)
Life and times memoirs are often lives leavened with some tangential nods to times. In Iola Mathews’s book Winning for Women: A personal story, a notable career is inextricably linked with the remarkable times she did much to shape.
It is the story of a feminist, the Australian feminist movement, and the battle for transformational political, lega ...