Penguin

This is, above all else, a timely novel. In an afterword describing the Beijing massacre, Nicholas Jose explains that he wrote Avenue of Eternal Peace in 1987. The novel ends with the growing push for democracy, with crowds milling in Tiananmen Square, and with a sense that change might be possible, if precarious. The afterword details the end of such hopes. Jose’s novel therefore has a strange air of elatedness surrounding it. On the one hand it offers a very rare example of contemporary Australian fiction confronting China. The fact that the map of history it stems from has changed so dramatically adds an extra fillip to the reader’s vicarious experience of the ‘new’ China, and especially of Australia’s increasingly blasé encounter with China – up until the recent repression. Perhaps it now stands as a testament to what might have been.

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Don Anderson reviews 'Before I Wake' by John Scott

Don Anderson
Friday, 07 February 2020

A masculine reader, one assumes. From that (limited) point of view, John Scott writes the most erotic prose in the country. Linda Jaivin is ham-fisted by comparison. We are talking about a textual sexuality, the kind practised so exquisitely by David Brooks in The House of Balthus. We are talking about a sexuality that may, perhaps, be possible only in language. As Helen Gamer observes in her review of John Hughes film of Scott’s novel What I Have Written: ‘I must state a painful fact; sex in a book is sexier than sex on a screen.’ (The Independent, June 1996). I must state a further painful fact: bodies get in the way. Not of sex; not of lovemaking; but of the erotic. The body trammels the imagination.

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Terri-Ann White reviews 'Modern Interiors' by Andrea Goldsmith

Terri-ann White
Friday, 07 February 2020

Andrea Goldsmith’s second novel, Modern Interiors, is about a family, and marked out by its goodies and baddies. This is a moral novel about capitalism and the choices open to people within its system. Goldsmith uses outrageous caricatures to represent the baddies – those seduced and corrupted by the family’s damned money. And all of the goodies have an interest in and strenuously pursue the higher knowledges – poetry and fiction, philosophy and philanthropy. They are all good, and fair-minded people, if sometimes with too much sweetness and light.

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Cassandra Pybus reviews 'The Blue Guitar' by Nicholas Hasluck

Cassandra Pybus
Friday, 07 February 2020

In the wake of the spectacular collapse of Rothwells and unsavoury revelations about Western Australian entrepreneurial enterprise, it is very apposite for Penguin to have republished Nick Hasluck’s 1980 novel, The Blue Guitar. This novel, as relevant now as nine years ago, deals with the world of entrepreneurship with its illusory money, fast talk, and duplicity. It is a world of the corrupt and the corruptible, where principles and moral certainties give way before glib notions of innovative thinking and flexibility.

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In her interview with Candida Baker for Yacker 2, Jessica Anderson expresses her dissatisfaction with the covers of a number of her books, citing in particular the glum face on the paperback of The Impersonators and the representation of The Commandant as, in Baker’s words, ‘a Regency romance’. Anderson, who began as a commercial artist, stresses that ‘Design and presentation ... really matter. They’re the introduction to a book.’ It seems to me to be particularly unfortunate (although she may well have given it her blessing) that her new book sports a clichéd Ken Done cover. Perhaps Done’s bright colours might evoke the ‘warm zone’ of the title, although Anderson is referring to Brisbane, not Done’s mock-naïve view of Sydney. Unfortunately, the cover subliminally suggests that Anderson’s writing is sunnily comforting, easily assimilated.

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Susan Lever reviews 'Testostero' by David Foster

Susan Lever
Friday, 07 February 2020

David Foster is obsessed with opposites. He likes to play polarities of place and value against each other: in The Pure Land he contrasted Katoomba and Philadelphia, the sentimental and the intellectual; in Plumbum he put Canberra against Calcutta, the rational against the spiritual. At a talk in Canberra several years ago, he commented that it was the symmetry of the words Canberra and Calcutta that attracted him to the idea of the cities as polarities. Words themselves invite Foster to play games with meaning and suggestion, and he finds an endless source of absurdity in the gap between actuality and the words chosen to label it.

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Lucy Frost reviews 'Milk' by Beverley Farmer

Lucy Frost
Friday, 07 February 2020

Greek and English, the Greek father and Australian mother, the child in the middle who looks at one object and sees different creatures – no catch-phrase like ‘culture conflict’ says much about what is happening in Ismini’s life at this moment. The story does, however, in the strong, unblinkered prose of Beverley Farmer as she writes with unfaltering sensitivity about Greece, about Australians in Greece and Greeks in Australia, and, painfully, about couples and the families who mix their cultures with their love and hate.

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The time is always four o’clock in the morning when Night Sister M. Shady (unregistered) is on duty at The Hospital of St Christopher and St Jude. The punctual milkman is swearing as he falls on the broken step, the elderly patients are having a water fight or an altercation or a game of cards. Whatever may or may not be going on, Mrs Shady will record with confidence ‘nothing abnormal to report’.

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David English reviews 'Minimum of Two' by Tim Winton

David English
Friday, 20 December 2019

A little puce head slipped out, followed by a rush of blood and water. Jerra saw it splash onto the gynaecologist’s white boots. Across Rachel’s chest the little body lay tethered for a moment while smocks and masks pressed hard up against Rachel’s wound. He saw a needle sink in. Someone cut the cord. Blood, grey smears of vernix. The child’s eyes were open. Jerra felt them upon him. From the little gaping mouth, pink froth issued. They snatched him up.

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There nine stories in this volume are rich in people, satire, compassion, and humour. And set like ambushes, unexpected and surprising, are several cameos. It is a captivating, ensnaring book, but to call it a book of short stories would be so inadequate as to be misleading. There is an uncommon coherence, slender but powerful enough to raise it above that easy classification.

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