Allen & Unwin

The Coast by Eleanor Limprecht

by
August 2022, no. 445

A child of nine is taken to Sydney for the first time to visit her mother, a patient at the Coast Hospital lazaret. Upon arrival, she learns that she, like her mother, has leprosy. Her fate is fixed from that day; she will live the remainder of her life in the lazaret. She takes the new name of ‘Alice’ to hide her former self, and the world closes in upon her. There will be no more school, no playing with her younger brothers and sisters, no friends of her own age, no prospect of romance, no hope of freedom.

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In a famous letter to her friend and fellow writer Lorna Sage, Angela Carter declared that no daughter of hers should ever pen a title like Elizabeth Smart’s By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept (1945): ‘BY GRAND CENTRAL STATION I TORE OFF HIS BALLS would be more like it, I should hope.’ The choice between getting sad or getting mad, the dilemma of how to represent the reality of female anguish without romanticising or pathologising it, is a recurring theme in twenty-first-century women’s writing: it forms the main subject of Leslie Jamison’s essay ‘Grand Unified Theory of Female Pain’ (2014); it is the premise behind the post-feminist revenge films Jennifer’s Body (2009) and Promising Young Woman (2020).

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Australia is not the science-fiction capital of the world; in fact we are probably not even on the map. This unfortunate fact would change if we could produce more writers like Paul Collins.

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Wildlife film-makers Richard Southeby and his wife Nicole Vander are filming a duck hunt at Great Dismal Swamp, North Carolina, where Greenpeace demonstrators plan to make their presence felt. Their fanatical leader, Simon Rosenberg, has a flowing beard and deeply troubled eyes. His idea is to get his troops in front of the guns, really provoke the shooters and obtain maximum publicity. Remind you of anyone? But then in the early stages of filming, Nicole is blown away into the swamp by an unseen assassin. Who’s responsible? Greenpeace crazies? Duck hunters? Or an international hired hitman known as the Jaguar? You guessed right.

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In the wake of other recent compelling débuts – Paige Clark’s meticulously crafted and imagined She is Haunted being a standout – three new short story collections, varying markedly in tone, style, and setting, offer bold and unsettling visions of twenty-first-century life.

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Hannah Gadsby’s show Nanette (2017–18) starts out funny but then shifts to long, angry monologues that refuse its audience the release of laughter. By breaking the conventional contract between a comedian and her audience, Gadsby rejected her own former practice of turning her traumatic experiences into jokes. Nanette’s international run and subsequent release as a Netflix special spanned the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey, which gauged public support for marriage equality, as well as the international #MeToo movement against sexual assault.

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On 9 March 2022, Russian forces at war in Ukraine bombed a maternity hospital in the city of Mariupol, killing three and injuring seventeen. In a confused response to international condemnation, Russia denied responsibility, designating these denunciations ‘information terrorism’ and ‘fake news’. 

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In 2007, on the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Great Ocean Road, a bronze statue was unveiled at Eastern View, near Torquay. The statue, titled ‘The Diggers’, depicts two pick-wielding mates, one handing the other a drink. In name and form, the statue memorialises both the World War I Anzacs the road was built to honour and the repatriated soldiers who began constructing it in 1919. But the statue tells only half the story. As the anniversary date indicates, the Great Ocean Road was completed in 1932, at the height of the Great Depression. It provided work not only for returned servicemen, but also for thousands of unemployed a decade later. Many probably worked under both circumstances.

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Stuart Macintyre was in a league of his own as a historian of communism. That’s not just a comment on his status as a historian of the Communist Party of Australia, whose first volume, The Reds (1999), took the party from its origins in 1920 to brief illegality at the beginning of World War II, and whose second, The Party, covering the period from the 1940s to the end of the 1960s, now appears posthumously. It applies equally to his stature in the international field of the history of communism. There are plenty of Cold War histories of the communist movement, written from outside in severely judgemental mode. There are also laudatory histories, written from within. But when The Reds appeared, it was, to my knowledge, the first history of a communist party anywhere that succeeded in normalising it as a historical topic, that is, writing neither in a spirit of accusation or exculpation but with critical detachment and scrupulous regard for evidence and its contradictions.

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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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