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Penguin Random House

It is hard to become excited about Peter Carey’s new novel, and that is a hard notion to entertain. We are used to being tested, and vastly entertained, by Carey. For a quarter of a century he has written distinctive and highly original fiction, including two or three books (notably True History of the Kelly Gang [2000] for this writer) that triumphantly fulfilled the novel’s enduring claim on our attention. This new work – though comparably imaginative in places – seems to mark not so much a falling-off as a kind of marking time.

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Living in the inner suburbs of Sydney, it is easy to become blasé about homosexuality. Gay men are everywhere: streets, cafés, shops, neighbouring houses, dog parks, and gyms. I live near Surry Hills Shopping Centre, an otherwise unspectacular mini-mall. Early evening, however, the supermarket aisles are choked with well-groomed gay men making a show of checking out the produce. I have to confess, after the initial voyeuristic delight, I have come to find this concentration of gay men tiresome. The tanned skin, the razor sharp hair-styles, the muscles, the tattoos and, most annoyingly, the ubiquitous army pants – they blur into a crowd of cosmopolitan conformity. As I crankily push around the shopping cart, clad in my shapeless tracksuit pants and wine-stained T-shirt, I have to suppress the desire to run down the odd unsuspecting homosexual, dangerously separated from his pack.

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In September 2018, NewSouth published a new edition of A Certain Style.

On a chilly evening in 1980, a stylish woman in her early seventies, wheezing slightly from a lifetime’s cigarettes, climbed a staircase just beneath the Harbour Bridge, entered a room full of book editors – young women mostly, university-educated, making their way ...

The Dressmaker by Rosalie Ham & Black Hearts by Arlene J. Chai

October 2000, no. 225

Set in the 1950s in a tiny Australian country town called Dungatar, Rosalie Ham’s The Dressmaker explores the rippling effects of chaos when a woman returns home after twenty years of exile in Europe. Tilly Dunnage was expelled from Australia in a fog of hate and recrimination; her neighbours have never forgiven her for an act Tilly thought was predicated upon self-preservation, but others chose to see as manslaughter. Returning to look after her senile mother, Tilly sits in a ramshackle house atop a hill while the town people below bitch and snipe at her with rancorous glee. This is a story about loose lips and herd mentality bullying in a town where everybody knows your past. The dressmaking title refers to Tilly’s fabulous seamstress skills (she learnt the trade overseas). But even her ability to transform the frumpiest shapes into figures of grace does not mellow the unforgiving hearts of her neighbours.

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This amazing novel comes in two parts, a 431-page prose Saga, and a 123 page verse Ballad. The whole is held together by a Narrator, who tells the Saga as a gloss on the Ballad, which he found in an old bike shed in an abandoned mailbag. The ballad was written by Orion the Poet, a young man called Timothy Papadirnitriou ...

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‘Years ago we threw the old didacticism (dowdy morality) out of the window; it has come back in at the door wearing modern dress (smart values) and we do not even recognise it.’ John Rowe Townsend’s words, from more than a quarter of a century ago, retain a fresh ring of truthfulness. I recalled them after reading The Girl with No Name (Puffin, $8.95 pb), Pat Lowe’s first novel for children.

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