Australian Fiction

The play of mirror images in this new work of Thea Astley is quite dazzling. She goes from strength to strength in her command of the crafts of narrative. The book is an enquiry into escape, not just any escape, but escape in an almost metaphysical dimension, in which losing oneself is the only way to find oneself. The novel appears to divide into two novellas, linked by the appearance of the villain, and I use the term advisedly, in both. However the two stories are so closely linked in theme, in motifs and in structure, that they are more like twin pictures that form a diptych.

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So, my lad, you’ve got yourself born. It happens to all of us, and say what they will, those Deep-South Born-Again Americans, it is a-once-in-a-lifetime occurrence. One birth, one life, one death. You are fortunate; you have a good, a very good pair of parents, you have a strong body, and a questing mind. I had the same, a firm base from which to start out. I had ...

This sixth work of fiction by Frank Moorhouse consists of four groups of related stories. The first and by far the best group, ‘Pacific City’, contains six stories centred around the figure of Irving Bow, proprietor of a cinema located near an unbuilt town named Pacific City during the late nineteen-twenties (not the nineteen-thirties as the back cover claims).

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When Dorothy Hewett won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for non-fiction with the first volume of her autobiography, Wild Card, it was a popular choice on the night. She’s a writer who has attracted all kinds of controversy, from libel suits to outrage over her flamboyant politics, both sexual and social. She has published four volumes of poetry, thirteen plays, but only one novel, called Bobbin Up, back in 1959. Jack Beazley, in a review for the Communist Review, criticised the novel for ‘an overstressing of physical relations’; a judgment that evidently didn’t deflect Dorothy Hewett from her interests, since physical relations, and the way that women feel about them, are still stressed in The Toucher. Setting herself a difficult task, Hewett has placed her central character, a woman writer, in a wheelchair, and without the company of a male lover, in order to talk about some of the things that preoccupy her now: old age, loneliness, physicality, relationships, personal history. She’s a generous talker, open and friendly, willing to think about any topic that is presented, and obviously very pleased to have produced another novel after years of believing that she couldn’t write one. I began by asking Dorothy Hewett how she felt about returning to the novel after so many years writing poetry and plays.

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The Toucher by Dorothy Hewett

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June 1993, no. 151

The publicity for Dorothy Hewett’s first novel in thirty-four years bills The Toucher as ‘a story of sexual intrigue, memory and death’. Maybe, but there’s also a lot more going on, as Hewett subverts conventional ideas of romance, ageing, morality, fiction and autobiography, and the end to which we come.

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David Foster has a way with subject matter in his novels. In his dealings with the arcane (The Adventures of Christian Rosy Cross and Rosicrucianism) and the quotidian (the postal protocol of Dog Rock) alike, he has consistently shown the knack of discovering new areas to entertain and inform us. He is mightily intolerant of the glib social overview by scientist or politician and, in his capacity as Juvenalian satirist, he possesses all the qualifications, including a keen eye for human folly, the ability to manipulate and hijack his audience, and a readiness to be mordant and merciless while at the same retaining an unrelenting hold over those who read his books.

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In 1908, on 11 September (an ominous day for the changing nature of planes in our dreams), Franz Kafka and Max Brod travelled to Brescia in Italy to watch Louis Blériot fly a plane. For Kafka, and probably most in the crowd, this was the first opportunity to witness a human crawl into a machine and, like something out of Greek Myth, fly towards the Mediterranean sun. Kafka and Brod decided to record their observations. Brod saw the pilot draw inspiration from the adoring crowd. Blériot ‘was being lifted on high by the mounting murmur of the thousands’. Kafka, sensing the crowd’s devoted gaze, had a different impression, ‘twenty meters above the earth a person is trapped in a wooden construction, fighting a voluntary and invisible danger. And we are down here, crowded and insubstantial, watching.’

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The Coast by Eleanor Limprecht

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August 2022, no. 445

A child of nine is taken to Sydney for the first time to visit her mother, a patient at the Coast Hospital lazaret. Upon arrival, she learns that she, like her mother, has leprosy. Her fate is fixed from that day; she will live the remainder of her life in the lazaret. She takes the new name of ‘Alice’ to hide her former self, and the world closes in upon her. There will be no more school, no playing with her younger brothers and sisters, no friends of her own age, no prospect of romance, no hope of freedom.

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Faithless is the third novel by West Australian writer Alice Nelson. Her first, The Lost Sky (2008), saw her named Sydney Morning Herald Best Young Australian Novelist, and her second, The Children’s House (2018), attracted widespread critical acclaim. All three explore themes of trauma, displacement, memory, and love. Nelson, many of whose family migrated here from Europe, once pondered in a 2019 interview with Brenda Walker at the Centre for Stories whether writers write to ‘heal some kind of loss’ and whether for her ‘it began with that sense of loss of homeland, loss of culture and country that ran through my family’.

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On the surface, Scott McCulloch’s début novel, Basin, takes place in a brutal and degenerated landscape; the edge of a former empire in a state of violent flux. Rebels, separatists, terrorists, paramilitary groups, and the remnants of imperial forces clash over borders and interzones in the wake of the ‘Collapse’, an undefined geopolitical and ecological disaster. Print and broadcast media warn of inter-ethnic conflict and Rebel advances. Bazaars, brothels, and a chain of Poseidon Hotels all operate amid industrial waste and military checkpoints, servicing the region’s fishermen, soldiers, smugglers, and drifters. There is a multiplicity of language and religion (Abrahamic denominations mingle with archaic, pagan beliefs). Alcohol consumption and illicit drug use are rife. The climate is oppressively humid.

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