Allen & Unwin

Each of the three parts that make up Thea Astley’s new novel, Coda, is prefaced by a newspaper report, real or imaginary, detailing cases of ‘granny-dumping’, the ruthless abandonment of old, frail, and disoriented people by their unidentified children. This sets the scene for a reflection on old age and the rejection of those whose physical and mental capacities no longer meet the stringent requirements of the standard economically viable unit of modem civilisation. The manifest duty of such objects is to be as discreet as possible, providing minimal inconvenience to others (especially their adult children) until they can fade into oblivion.

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Janine Haines’s book, Suffrage to Sufferance is a good read. For women who are in public life and who insist on equality, it is a realistic and often humorous read. For those women who aspire to public life or simply equal rights, it is an entertaining – lost journalistic – account of where women’s aspirations might lead them. For men who understand or want to understand women’s drive for equality, there is an idea of the barriers, seen and unseen, that women face. And there is some sense of women’s struggle for political influence and recognition.

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Wolves and goats. The goats represent the ego. They control time, represent culture, continuity, the status quo. They live in the grandfather clock that is at once history and the records of the psychoanalyst. The wolves are the id, the unconscious, desire. They are also reason, and they triumph over time. The Wolf-Man led Freud to his understanding of the war of the id on the ego. Freud identified as neurotics those who, unable to live with the war, regress to the instinctive, the primitive, the animal.

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Anyone interested in Aboriginal history or race relations will probably be familiar with the work of Henry Reynolds. His books include The Other Side of the Frontier (1982), Frontier (1987), and The Law of the Land (1987). This latest book is a collection of documents, ones that provided much of the source material for Reynolds’s earlier works. In this book, he tell us in the preface, ‘our forebears speak for themselves and speak in many voices’.

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In some ways, John Hirst presents his tale of colonial New South Wales as if it were a book for today. In the preface he comments: ‘But why should we care what it was like? – because in many fundamentals this is the political world we still inhabit.’ This theme is sketched and hinted at several times in the text but it is never argued in a systematic and rigorous manner. What are we to make of the claim?

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About ten years ago, I was asked to give a talk to a Sydney group of Australian writers. (Actually, they asked Leonie Kramer, but she was busy.) I decided to talk on ‘Some unknown Australian women writers of the nineteenth century’ in ‘the hope of interesting some of them in researching the lives and careers of their predecessors.

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A crucial clue is given right at the beginning in the form of a lavender plant punningly sent to Claudia Valentine, our detective heroine. Like just about everything else in the novel, it turns out to have been put there by the novel’s Mr Big, Harry Lavender. And finding out the extent of his influence is what keeps us going through the back alleys and one way streets, more often than the smoothly flowing highways, of a clever detective narrative.

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This book has drawn comment from press gallery journalists that the author’s background as a finance writer has led to weaknesses in its political analysis. The political sections, however, strike this reader as every bit up to the standard of the press gallery contributions on the subject, and, indeed, add some useful detail on Paul Keating’s early years, which were devoted with such unswerving dedication to entering parliament at the age of twenty-five. Both the gallery and Carew agree that Keating is an outstanding politician and enormously successful treasurer. While it is not always fair to lament that a book is different from the one you might have preferred to read – the author’s task is hard enough as it is – I would have hoped that the economic issues would have been explored with a much broader brush.

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More than in any other way, Australian humour has evolved and found its greatest expression not through the nation’s writers, entertainers, or film makers, but by the means of cartoonists drawing for the Australian press. This humour had two significant periods of development - the first beginning with the founding of the Bulletin a little over a century ago when the editors of this illustrated publication, notably J.F. Archibald, encouraged and fostered native talent, especially those artists of the day with comic graphic skills.

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A phrase like ‘And God so loved the world, she …’ has a radical impact on that most deeply ingrained convention; the contract underlying and validating much of Western culture that the logos is masculine and the power behind the logos is designated, generically, as ‘he’. Our culture is patriarchal; patriarchal power derives from God and that power is symbolically inscribed in language.

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