Brenda Walker

Old Growth by John Kinsella

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April 2017, no. 390

John Kinsella’s short stories are the closest thing Australians have to Ron Rash’s tales of washed-out rural America, where weakened and solitary men stand guard over their sad patch of compromised integrity in a world of inescapable poverty, trailer homes, uninsured sickness, and amphetamine wastage. Poe’s adventure stories and internally collapsing character ...

Originally published in German, Albrecht Dümling’s The Vanished Musicians: Jewish refugees in Australia (Peter Lang), a fascinating compendium of Jewish musicians who found refuge in Australia in the 1930s and 1940s, is now available in Australian Diana K. Weekes’s excellent translation ...

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In The Simplest Words, Alex Miller's recently published work on his own journey through country, writing, love, friendship, and fatherhood, there is a remarkable scene of levitation. Miller describes his young daughter soaring up his own bookshelves, pas ...

Jennifer Maiden's The Fox Petition: New Poems (Giramondo) conjures foxes 'whose eyes were ghosts with pity' and foxes of language that transform the world's headlines

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Shirley Hazzard is probably the most elegantly polished writer in the Australian canon: her novels and stories use traditional structures with great assurance, she writes from a thoughtful moral position, she is outspokenly engaged with the fine and the less fine elements of the Australia she once lived in, and she can be dry and funny. She spent most of her life in ...

We do nothing alone,’ writes Alex Miller, in his brief memoir ‘The Mask of Fiction’, where he gives an account of the generative processes of his writing. Art, according to Miller, comes from the capacity of the writer to ‘see ourselves as the other’. Early in his career, Miller’s friend Max Blatt woke him, in his farmhouse at Araluen, in order to dismiss the weighty and unsuccessful manuscript that Miller had given him to read. Blatt’s urgent and unsociable rejection of the manuscript may have saved Miller’s work, establishing a new emotional basis for his writing. ‘Why don’t you write about something you love?’ Blatt asked. That night, Blatt told Miller a true story of personal survival and Miller began to write afresh. In the morning, Blatt accepted Miller’s version of the story he had told with the words: ‘You could have been there.’

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The point of return in this highly moveable associative novel is the London Underground, not as an instance of efficiency or even the most modest and individual progression, but rather as a static enclosure where creatures and people are delayed, starved, balked, pained by the straps or handles of their baggage and, most overwhelmingly, alone.

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Janine Burke’s Company of Images is a funny and socially astute book about painters and their promoters in contemporary Melbourne. The humour comes from sharp observations and deft characterisations. Burke’s minor figures are like good caricatures, but her major characters are a complex blend of impulses and emotions, which can be funny or sad. She takes the opportunity to send up predictably vulnerable members of her artistic community: the painter running to seed who often feels ‘small, helpless and angry’ and seduces or denounces his students according to the state of his ego; the curator with his eyes on New York and whose ambition is ‘to have friends he was unable to frighten’; the Professor of Fine Arts who roams his Department ‘inciting suspicion and acting out his own’; and the wealthy, titled collector who brings in a curator from the State Gallery to hang a painting in her toilet.

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The Walls of Jericho by Julie Lewis & The Wild Dogs by Peter Skrzynecki

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August 1987, no, 93

At various times in its history, the Australian short story has been predictable, as editorial and public appetites have limited experimentation. I am glad to be reading now, when approval can be conferred on collections as different and as variously excellent as Julie Lewis’s The Walls of Jericho and Peter Skrzynecki’s The Wild Dogs. Lewis’s work is more formally experimental than Skrzynecki’s, but both collections offer insight into the social and the literary.

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Jumbo by Gabrielle Lord

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October 1986, no. 85

Gabrielle Lord’s novels – Fortress, Tooth and Claw and now, Jumbo, are all topical, readable, and (I expect) highly marketable. Lord is a scriptwriter as well as a novelist and each of these books seems like a transit point between a great idea and the kind of film which makes you lean forward in your seat and temporarily abandon regular breathing. There is, however, much to be said for them, as novels. They are thrillers, but they are not merely escapist. The plots dislocate everyday events in a way which questions the validity of what passes as socially acceptable. On the other hand, pace, suspense, and social critique seem to substitute for the subtlety and detail which would transform these books into something more than temporarily exciting and even instructive reading experiences. For all the immediacy and significance of Lord’s novels, the vibrancy of her work often seems to me to lie in its potential, rather than in the text at hand. In this respect Jumbo, the most recent novel, does not surpass its predecessors.

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