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Melinda Harvey

Back in 2007, his academic cap firmly fastened, David Sornig wrote in the pages of Antipodes: ‘Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the city [of Berlin] has, more than any other, become thought of as the place where, in Fukuyaman terms, history actually ended. In this sense it is the eschatological city par excellence.’ It is a curiosity of sorts that Australian writers have been in the front stalls documenting this apocalyptic vision.

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Towards the end of the current issue of Antipodes, Bev Braune asks the questions, ‘Who is the reader? And how many of us are there?’ Braune is not referring to Antipodes and its audience. Nonetheless, the questions stand. Academic journals challenge our more romantic notions of readers and reading. As a general rule, they make poor bedtime companions; they deter greenhorns and lotus-eaters; they tend not to provide diversion, entertainment or consolation; and they serve a public and professional, not a private and recreational, function. One could hazard that they exist less for readers than for writers – that they are less read than written for.

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Meanjin edited by Ian Britain & Overland No. 181 edited by Nathan Hollier

April 2006, no. 280

Like Monaco, journals are sunny places for shady people. Black sheep and dark horses have often found a first sanctuary there. Precarious principalities, they are built on the shifting sands of subsidies, sponsorships and subscriptions. But their lifeblood is won or lost at the roulette wheel of submissions and commissions.

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Disaster has always shadowed the traveller. Today’s adventurers differ from their forebears only in the kinds of calamity they have cause to fear. Arabella Edge’s second novel – like her first, the award-winning The Company (2000) – will have readers thanking their lucky stars that shipwreck, at least, has gone the way of history. As its cover suggests, The God of Spring centres on Théodore Géricault’s masterpiece, The Raft of the Medusa (1819) – its painting, its painter and the real event it depicts.

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These are hostile times for literary fiction in Australia. New novels are well advised to don flak, not flap, jackets. And it’s not just a simple case of critics sniping from the sidelines, wanting their piece of the action. This is a full-blown civil war involving all the vested interests – publishers, editors, journalists, publicists and booksellers – not just writers and readers. The smarting adjectival arrows continue to find their targets. Current fiction is too dreamy, starchy, inconsequential, ingrown, belletristic, portentous. While our non-fiction writers have been doing time in South American jails and running the gauntlet of spy networks, our best novelists have been tending the lily-livered genres of historical fiction and fable. Many of them have been accused of skedaddling off to the library at a time when a confrontation with the forces of xenophobia, philistinism, fogeyism and greed is more than ever required. Novel-writing, in a word (and it’s one that has been flung around with a degree of passion recently), has become ‘gutless’ storytelling.

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