Fourth Estate

A lover of photography since childhood, by the time Olive Cotton, who was born in Sydney in 1911, was in her twenties she was already creating the pictures that were to define her as one of Australia’s foremost women photographers, although this would not be acknowledged until the 1980s. Apart from the photographs she made, Cotton left little material trace of a life that spanned nine decades (she died in 2003). This lack of physical evidence presented a challenge for biographer Helen Ennis, a former curator of photography at the National Gallery of Australia and an art historian, who has nonetheless managed to weave a compelling, if at times diaphanous, narrative.

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Judith Armstrong reviews 'Reunion' by Andrea Goldsmith

Judith Armstrong
Friday, 25 October 2019

What’s the use,’ asks Alice before wandering away from her uncommunicative sister, ‘of a book without pictures or conversations?’ Grown-up readers can probably manage without the former, but it is unusual to find a novel with as little dialogue in it as Andrea Goldsmith’s Reunion, or one that so deliberately ignores the common injunction ‘Show, don’t tell.’

Yet Goldsmith has several books to her credit, including The Prosperous Thief, which was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Literary Award in 2002, and for several years taught creative writing at Deakin University. Presumably she knows what she is doing. In point of fact, not only does this flouting of conventional rules come over as quite refreshing, it is in any case justified by the demands of the narrative.

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Judy Armstrong reviews 'Playing with Water' by Kate Llewellyn

Judy Armstrong
Monday, 14 October 2019

Kate Llewellyn has written sixteen books, which is quite an achievement. They include poetry, fiction and autobiography. One book, The Waterlily (1987), has sold 30,000 copies, a notable accomplishment for any author. The Waterlily was the first book in Llewellyn’s Blue Mountains trilogy; the second was called Dear You (1988). I read it years ago, having borrowed it from a library because I suspected the title might be an indication of the tone. It was not the epistolary format that gave me pause: I have relished many correspondences, ranging from the passionate exchanges of Julie and St Preux in Rousseau’s Julie ou la Nouvelle Héloïse (1761) to Robert Dessaix’s grapplings with life-threatening illness in his acclaimed Night Letters (1996). But for my taste, the series of missives beginning ‘Dear You’ betrayed an irritating archness. The author seemed to be caught between the heady excitement of Revealing All and a coy fear of saying Too Much.

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Writers describing the contemporary moment abound. Many do it well, but few do it as shrewdly as Jia Tolentino. With Trick Mirror: Reflections on self-delusion, Tolentino has produced a début collection of essays so insightful ...

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Steven Carroll’s The Time We Have Taken is the latest in his trilogy – with The Art of the Engine Driver (2001), The Gift of Speed (2004) – about a northern suburb of Melbourne. Referred to only as ‘the suburb’, this anonymity serves to make it a universal place on the fringes of any Australian city ...

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Brenda Niall reviews 'March' by Geraldine Brooks

Brenda Niall
Tuesday, 05 March 2019

Spacious and solidly constructed, the classic nineteenth-century novel invites revisiting. Later writers reconfigure its well-known spaces, change the lighting, summon marginal figures to the centre. Most memorable, perhaps, is Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea (1966), in which the first Mrs Rochester ...

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Kerryn Goldsworthy reviews The Year of The Beast by Steven Carroll

Kerryn Goldsworthy
Friday, 22 February 2019

In his 2017 essay ‘Notes for a Novel’, illuminatingly added as a kind of afterword at the end of this book, Steven Carroll recalls a dream that he had twenty years ago. It was this dream, he says, that grew into a series of novels centred on the Melbourne suburb of Glenroy, a series of which this novel is the sixth and last. It was ...

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The Marmalade Files is a novel by Canberra press gallery veterans Steve Lewis and Chris Uhlmann. Set in 2011, it is a fast-paced political thriller with decidedly modest ambitions. Probably intended as a thriller or a light-hearted romp through Canberra’s back rooms, The Marmalade Files fails on both counts. It is a sort of bastard potboiler, weirdly ...

Mary Queen of Scots, widow of the youthful French king, returns from her long exile in France to a country bereft of pageantry... ... (read more)

James Bradley reviews 'Bird Cloud' by Annie Proulx

James Bradley
Thursday, 24 March 2011

Almost two decades ago, when The Shipping News (1993) transformed Annie Proulx into an unlikely literary superstar, one might have been forgiven for...

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