Fiona Gruber reviews 'The Arsonist' by Chloe Hooper

Fiona Gruber reviews 'The Arsonist' by Chloe Hooper

The Arsonist

by Chloe Hooper

Hamish Hamilton, $34.99 pb, 272 pp, 978670078189

The language we use to describe fire, Chloe Hooper points out, gives it a creaturely shape: it has flanks, tongues, fingers, a tail. It licks, it devours. Fascinated by its mythic force, we talk about taming a fire as we talk about taming a beast, but when it comes to vast tracts of bush, we can only contain it and wait for another natural force, the weather, to extinguish the flames.

On 7 February 2009, the weather in Victoria was not friendly. A high-pressure system had settled over the Tasman Sea, bringing temperatures in the mid-forties, the highest recorded since records began in 1859. Any moisture in the air had evaporated; humidity was below five per cent. After a sweltering night, the state’s residents awoke to warnings of extreme danger; all the firefighting bodies were on standby.

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Fiona Gruber

Fiona Gruber

Fiona Gruber is a journalist and producer with twenty years experience writing and broadcasting across the arts as a commentator, profile writer, and reviewer. She currently divides her time between Australia and the UK.

Gruber's work has appeared in The Australian, The Times Literary Supplement, Australian Book Review, The Guardian, The Age, Sydney Morning Herald, Opera Now, History Today, and Art World Australia.

Her profiles of well-known writers and playwrights include John Banville, Margaret Drabble, Simon Callow, Marina Warner, A. L. Kennedy, Francis Wheen, Michelle de Kretser, Toni Jordan, David Francis, Jane Smiley, Angus Trumble, Chris Womersley, David Harrower, Richard Bean, Jez Butterworth, and Moisés Kaufman.

For ABC Radio National alongside sporadic appearances as an opinionated commentator on hot topics, Gruber has made a series of features on writers, artists, theatre makers, and explorers for The Book Show, Books and Arts Daily and Hindsight. These include artists John Wolseley and Vera Möller, writers Robert Macfarlane, Patricia Cornelius, Charlotte Wood, Francis Wheen and Alex Miller, actor Lisa Dwan, and explorer John Helder Wedge.

Gruber also worked for ABC TV as a researcher and producer on its Sunday Arts program.

She produced and hosted The Opening a live-to-air weekly radio arts show on PBSFM between 2003–10, notable for its mix of the very local with the rather famous. And in 2011 she was a regular on ABC 774 talking arts with veteran presenter Derek Guille.

Gruber received a Green Room Award in 2005 for co-founding and hosting ‘Gert's Sunday Salon’, a raffish arts and cabaret club in Melbourne’s Fitzroy.

In 2013 Fiona Gruber started a series of podcasts for the Melbourne Theatre Company which explore ideas around the plays on stage, the wider world of theatre, and the even wider world influencing stage selection.

Alongside her journalism she's currently finishing off a biography of nineteenth-century Australian entrepreneur Alice Cornwell: Victorian gold miner, proprietor of the London Sunday Times, and breeder of miniature black pug dogs.

Published in October 2018, no. 405

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