VIC contributor

The French have a term for weighty tomes of scholarship: gros pavés or paving stones. Alexander Mikaberidze has landed his own gros pavé, an extraordinary account of the Napoleonic Wars of 1799–1815 in almost one thousand pages, based on an awe-inspiring knowledge of military and political history and a facility in at least half a dozen languages. The scale of his knowledge is breathtaking.

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‘Experimental writing’ can sometimes seem like a wastebasket diagnosis for any text that defies categorisation. Even when used precisely, it begs certain questions. Isn’t all creative writing ‘experimental’ to some degree? Isn’t the trick to conceal the experimentation? And what relationship does it bear to the ‘avant-garde’? If avant-gardism implies a radical philosophy of art, where does ‘experimentalism’ fit today? Is it not part of the valorisation of novelty, of innovation for innovation’s sake, which has gripped the literary establishment in recent decades? (When books like Milkman [2018] and Ducks, Newburyport [2019] fall victim to the cosiest of literary prizes, where have the real radicals gone?)

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In 1985, following the publication of their collaborative works Gularabulu: Stories from the West Kimberley and Reading the Country: Introduction to nomadology (with artist Krim Benterrak as co-author), Paddy Roe, possibly sensing that the young researcher would be of critical importance to his life’s project, suggested to Stephen Muecke that there needed to be a third book, The Children’s Country, about the rayi – the spirit children – and for human children to come. Muecke writes that he was unable to deliver the book at the time. Roe went on to establish the Lurujarri Heritage Trail following a songline along a ninety-kilometre stretch of coastline from Minyirr (Broome) to Minarriny (Coulomb Point).

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Toby Davidson’s first collection, Beast Language, was published nine years ago. That feels surprising: its freshness then makes it feel more recent now. Much of the movement in that book is present in his new collection, Four Oceans (Puncher & Wattmann, $25 pb, 93 pp), literally so, as we begin with a long sequence aboard the Indian Pacific from Perth to Sydney. It’s his younger self again, leaving home for the ‘eastern states’, but with an esprit de l’escalier twist, as that younger self gets to see and describe everything with the eye and language of the older, freer, more assured Davidson.

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Prose Poetry: An introduction by Paul Hetherington and Cassandra Atherton

by
May 2021, no. 431

It speaks volumes that almost a century and a half after Baudelaire’s Paris Spleen announced the modern prose poem, James Longenbach influentially defined poetry as ‘the sound of language organized in lines’. An otherness, bordering on illegitimacy, pervades what Cassandra Atherton and Paul Hetherington argue is ‘the most important new poetic form to emerge in English-language poetry since the advent of free verse’. The book vindicates this claim. No less compelling, however, is the way the prose poem, long defined in negative terms, here becomes the whetstone over which old assumptions – about the prosaic, the poetic, and the daylight between the two – are run to a fresh sharpness.

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Pip Adam’s third novel, Nothing to See, is a multifaceted and complex work. The complications begin immediately, as we meet the protagonist, Peggy and Greta, who are a recovering alcoholic. The odd combination of the singular and plural here is intentional. As far as appearances go, Peggy and Greta are different individuals with separate bodies and separate minds. Nonetheless, they share one life in an arrangement made difficult by the discomfort and lack of understanding they face at every step. They became two at the lowest moment in their history, when the crushing weight of trauma and alcohol addiction became too much for a single person to bear. One individual whose choices were limited to recovery or death thus became two.

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Go to any suburban shopping centre and you will find a metropolis of consumption. ‘Buy, buy, buy’, it screeches, whether you are contemplating fast-fashion T-shirts, new-age solutions to age-old problems, or services and pampering you don’t really need, all in the harsh glare of white lights and a controlled climate, temperature just right. The shopping centre, uniform and tidy, is where you can get everything you’ve ever wanted while also getting nothing at all.

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‘Shall I scrub your back for you?” the monkey asked ... He had the clear, alluring voice of a doo-wop baritone. Not at all what you would expect.’ The eight short stories in First Person Singular are exactly what a reader has come to expect from Haruki Murakami, a writer with a penchant for neo-surrealism. The parabolic tales in this collection explore the familiar tropes and motifs of his oeuvre, including loneliness, outsiderness, chance encounters, music (classical, jazz and the Beatles), and memories. While Murakami might not be breaking new ground here, it is still a magical experience to return to his whimsical, eccentric, and enigmatic reimagining of Japan.

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Harold Bloom died in 2019 at the age of eighty-nine. Always prolific, he continued working until the very end. Throughout his final book, he digresses at regular intervals to record the date, note his advanced age, and allude to his failing health. At one point, he reveals that he is dictating from a hospital chair.

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Hugh Stretton knew he was a lucky man – someone born well in the lottery of life. Born in 1924, he came into a thoughtful family with a strong record of public service. He was educated at fine private schools and excelled in his arts and legal studies at the University of Melbourne. When war intervened, Stretton served in the navy for three years without suffering injury and then won a Rhodes scholarship before completing his undergraduate qualifications.

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