Hachette

Horse by Geraldine Brooks

by
July 2022, no. 444

Horse? Could that title sound familiar because it was a Richard Harris movie of the 1960s? Well, Geraldine Brooks, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for March (2005) and author of novels about everything from the characters in Little Women to the life of King David, is not one to be deterred by daunting precedents. She is a senior journalist who has gone on to use her capacity to master information and then spin it to spectacular effect in order to tell a story in which historical data and its artful arrangement yield an effect that is epical because of the way a many-voiced choir animates the chorales that underline the Passion that is dramatised.

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Daisy Simmons – twenty-four years old, the wife of a major in the Indian Army, mother of two children, ‘dark [and] adorably pretty’ – is an ephemeral presence in Virginia Woolf’s fourth novel, Mrs Dalloway (1925). Clarissa Dalloway’s former lover, Peter Walsh, has travelled to London from India to secure a divorce so that he might marry Daisy. From a mere handful of references, we are able to glean the wavering nature of Peter’s devotion to Daisy and his suspicion that she will, as Woolf writes, ‘look ordinary beside Clarissa’.

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In Feeling and Knowing: Making minds conscious, neuroscientist, psychologist, and philosopher Antonio Damasio asks us to imagine life without consciousness. We would, he argues, still have patterns of neurochemical, sense-derived information ‘flowing in our minds, but [that information] would be unconnected to us as singular individuals’.

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There are decades where nothing happens, and there are weeks where decades happen,’ Vladimir Lenin has been credited with saying, with reference to the Bolshevik Revolution. It’s a sentiment that immediately springs to mind when reading Jessica Stanley’s A Great Hope, a début that, while not billed as historical fiction, is deeply concerned with history and its making. 

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Edith Wharton, famed purveyor of ghost stories, said that she needed her reader to meet her halfway among the primeval shadows; that to believe in the fetches, haunts, and other ‘spectral strap-hangers’ that filled her pages one must still be able to hear the distant echo of the hoarse music of the northern Urwald or the churning darks seas of the outermost shores. The spectral presence in Louise Edrich’s new novel, The Sentence, appears in the midst of a decidedly unghostly suburban Minneapolis, but so compelling a presence is the phantasm of Flora that the reader embraces her wholeheartedly, diving without question into those primeval shadows where wraiths lurk.

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Rachel isn’t the last woman in the world, but she might as well be. Cloistered in her bushland home on Yuin country, in New South Wales, Rachel’s days consist of birdsong, simple meals prepared from a pantry stocked with home-made preserves, and glass-blowing in her private studio – a craft that is both her livelihood and her religion. It’s a peaceful yet precarious existence. The land is scarred by bushfires. Rachel’s senses are attuned to the absence of wallabies and small birds. For all her proficiency with sourdough starter, Rachel isn’t self-sufficient. Her older sister, Monique, provides an emotional tether to the world, while townswoman Mia delivers supplies and transports Rachel’s glassworks to a gallery. When Mia fails to show, Rachel rues the lack of a back-up plan. When Hannah, a young mother, raving about a nation-wide outbreak of death, arrives on her doorstep with a sick infant, luddite Rachel must choose between taking Hannah’s word for it or rejecting her.

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One of the hardest challenges for a novelist is to write a story for adults from the point of view of a child. In 1847, Charlotte Brontë set the bar high with Jane Eyre, the first novel to achieve this. The story ends when Jane is a woman but commences with the child Jane’s perspective. So effective for readers was Brontë’s ground-breaking feat that Charles Dickens decided to write Great Expectations in the voice of the child Pip, after just hearing about Jane Eyre, even before reading it. But the risks are great: creating a child narrator who knows, tells, or understands far too much for their age; dumbing down the story to fit with the character’s youth; striking the wrong notes by making the voice too childish or not childlike enough. It’s a minefield, and any novelist, especially a debutant, who pulls it off deserves praise. Thus Harper Lee, who never had to produce another book to maintain her legendary status.

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Scott Morrison has now been prime minister longer than any of his four predecessors: Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard, Tony Abbott, or Malcolm Turnbull. He has won one election by the skin of his teeth and faces another by May next year. So what sort of man is he and how good a prime minister? These three publications give us slightly different takes on these questions.

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One of the hardest challenges for a novelist is to write a story for adults from the point of view of a child. In 1847, Charlotte Brontë set the bar high with Jane Eyre, the first novel to achieve this. The story ends when Jane is a woman but commences with the child Jane’s perspective. So effective for readers was Brontë’s ground-breaking feat that Charles Dickens decided to write Great Expectations in the voice of the child Pip, after just hearing about Jane Eyre, even before reading it.

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Sealand calls itself a micronation. No one else does. It’s easy to see why: the ‘kingdom’ is little more than a glorified helipad. It rises from the North Sea off the coast of Suffolk like a Greek version of the letter π rendered out of concrete and steel – the sole survivor of a series of Maunsell forts built to shoot down Nazi Kriegsmarine aircraft during World War II. Abandoned by Britain in the 1950s, the fort was hijacked by pirate radio broadcaster Paddy Roy Bates in the 1960s and renamed the Principality of Sealand. Bates crowned himself ‘prince regent’ and – besides firing warning shots at the Royal Navy and fighting off a coup attempt by German mercenaries – entered into a series of sketchy schemes to stay afloat. One enterprise, launched in 2000 with the help of cypherpunk Ryan Lackey, was for the Bates family to turn Sealand into the world’s first data haven: an unbreakable digital lockbox beyond the clutches of law enforcement agencies and copyright lawyers.

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