I greatly enjoyed Ken Ward’s informative review of Peter Job’s new book, A Narrative of Denial, including the account of Australia’s role in Indonesian attitudes toward what was then Portuguese Timor (ABR, July 2021). However, I don’t think that Gough Whitlam, meeting with President Suharto in 1974, can be faulted for ‘overlooking the fact that [East Timor] was almost twice as large as Brunei, ASEAN’s smallest member-state’, since Brunei would not be an independent state or a member of ASEAN until 1984.
Ken Ward responds
I appreciate Dr Stenberg’s comment. I stand corrected; he is quite right.
As I read Anthony Lynch’s response to the latest short story collection by Tony Birch, I wonder whether the reviewer and book are well matched.
While dotted with praise and some excellent insights, the review appears to hanker after something else. Before coming to grips with the work in hand, Lynch wonders why there are not more stories of ‘the routines, joys, and grinding boredom of contemporary middle and outer suburbia’. Dark as Last Night is not that book for the reviewer.
The stabby description ‘untouched by post-modernism’ is followed by a note that the stories ‘make few demands on the reader’. The reviewer then spends precious words telling us that it would be better for a character to be described as ‘shaking’ rather than ‘shaking with fear’. A late sentence flirts with the word ‘twee’ as a descriptor.
But there is good news! I’d like to reassure the reviewer that even those of us who actively enjoy the brow-furrowing opacity of postmodern fiction, and who rise repeatedly and joyfully to the deliberate challenges set by such works, also have the capacity to rejoice in other styles of fiction. For example, we like well-written, well-plotted stories that engage us accessibly (not suspecting that ready immersion into a tale is a possible fault) with vivid and emotionally intelligent scenarios and resolutions.
Such stories are found in Dark as Last Night. Other collections may suit this reviewer’s taste better.
Having lived and worked in Lebanon from 1973 to 1976, I was enormously moved by the images of the country evoked by Theodore Ell (July 2021). Although his picture is of a contemporary Lebanon that is much changed, our time there during the tumultuous 1970s leaves us with memories of a beautiful country, war ravaged but hospitable and politically unfathomable – and now in ruins. Such an excellent essay.
The best literary anthologies reflect a vision, or perhaps the rethinking of a vision. The Penguin Book of Spanish Short Stories, reviewed by Alice Whitmore in the August 2021 issue, brings together many ‘fine flowers’, but the presentation does not clear a path – it seems haphazard. Not all good translators are finely tuned literary critics or anthologists. When they are, they should be commended; when they are not, they should have the intelligence to recognise their limitations.