Text Publishing

Morag Fraser reviews 'The Labyrinth' by Amanda Lohrey

Morag Fraser
Monday, 24 August 2020

In a 1954 letter to his niece Pippa, artist-nomad Ian Fairweather lamented that he could not write with sufficient analytic detachment to look back at his life and ‘see a pattern in it’. (Ian Fairweather: A life in letters, Text Publishing, 2019). The irony – that one of Australian art’s most profound, intuitive pattern-makers should be ruefully unable to ‘see’ the formative structures and repetitions of his fraught life – would not be lost on Amanda Lohrey. Labyrinth, her haunting new novel, is a meditation on fundamental patterns in nature and in familial relations, and our experience of them in time. But this is a novel, not a treatise, its narrative so bracing – like salt spray stinging your face – that one is borne forward inexorably, as if caught in the coastal rip that is one of the novel’s darker motifs. It is a work to read slowly, and reread, so that its metaphorical patterns can come into focus, and the intricate knots of structure loosen and unwind.

... (read more)

Kate Grenville’s new novel, her first in almost a decade, is dedicated to ‘all those whose stories have been silenced’, for which, as its ‘memoirist’–narrator heroine is Elizabeth Macarthur, we might read ‘women’. Did she – wife of the notorious John Macarthur, wool baron in early Sydney – write what Grenville’s publishers call ‘a shockingly frank secret memoir’? In her ‘Editor’s Note’, Grenville tells, tongue firmly in cheek, of there being discovered in the ceiling of a historic Parramatta house under renovation a long-hidden box containing that memoir. In an ‘Author’s Note’ at the book’s end, we are assured that ‘No, there was no box of secrets found in the roof of Elizabeth Farm. I didn’t [as she claimed at the beginning, in her Editor’s Note] transcribe and edit what you’ve just read. I wrote it.’ Perhaps those who thought otherwise failed to observe the book’s epigraph from Elizabeth Macarthur – ‘Do not believe too quickly’ – though whether those words were inscribed by the historic Elizabeth or by Grenville’s fictional one may be a matter for discussion. Apropos of previous books, Grenville the novelist has had disputes with historians about matters of fiction and fact.

... (read more)

Though it is his second country of citizenship, Australia might be classified as J.M. Coetzee’s fourth country of residence. He was born in South Africa and served as an academic at the University of Cape Town from 1972 to 2000; he lived in England between 1962 and 1965, where he studied for an MA thesis on Ford Madox Ford and worked as a computer programmer; and he then spent seven years in the United States, taking his doctorate at the University of Texas and being subsequently appointed a professor at the State University of New York. Since his move from Cape Town to Adelaide in 2002, Coetzee’s global literary reputation has risen significantly, helped in large part by the award of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2003.

... (read more)

Grandmothers are not what they used to be, as Elizabeth Jolley once said of custard tarts. It’s a point made by several contributors to Helen Elliott’s lively and thoughtfully curated collection of essays on the subject, Grandmothers, and it partly explains why these two books are not as similar as you might expect.

... (read more)

Laura Elizabeth Woollett reviews 'The Rain Heron' by Robbie Arnott

Laura Elizabeth Woollett
Tuesday, 26 May 2020

In an unnamed land under the thrall of a mysterious coup, mountain-dweller Ren wants only to live off the grid, undisturbed by human contact. Ren’s familiarity with the natural world becomes a liability when a band of soldiers comes seeking information that only she can provide: the whereabouts of a fabled bird with the ability to make it rain.

... (read more)

How do you define love? How much of yourself do you need to sacrifice to keep a friendship afloat? And can we ever truly understand the inner workings of other people’s lives? These are some of the questions that Laura McPhee-Browne explores in Cherry Beach, a gentle tale of female friendship.

... (read more)

Armed with more than half a century’s worth of knowledge, experience, the fermentation of ideas and approaches in literary history and criticism over that period, and her own formidable reputation as a scholar and teacher of Australian literature, Brenda Niall returns in her latest book to the territory of her earliest ones. In Seven Little Billabongs: The world of Ethel Turner and Mary Grant Bruce (1979), Niall broke new ground not just in writing a serious and scholarly full-length treatment of Australian children’s literature, but also in departing from the orthodox biographical tradition of focusing on a single figure.

... (read more)

For over a decade, Peter Singer has been one of those public intellectuals we are supposed by some not to have. In the past, however, the problem with him has been that his thinking has often been about matters not seen to concern the public at large, animal liberation, for example. But events have hurried us all forward. Even a few years ago it was possible for mottoes like ‘greed is good’ or pronouncements like Mrs Thatcher’s that ‘there is no such thing as society, there are only individuals’ to seem not only provocative but hard-headed. The good life, we were, many of us, persuaded, was synonymous with goods, our heroes were experts in money-making – having and spending, ethics seemed to be a matter of preserving the appearances, not getting caught.

... (read more)

Caitlin McGregor reviews 'Blueberries' by Ellena Savage

Caitlin McGregor
Friday, 20 March 2020

The writerly ‘I’ is notoriously fraught and political in non-fiction writing. What are the implications of writing from a biased and limited perspective (as all of us inevitably do)? How to get around – or work within – the constraints of the personal? These questions are ethical ones but also ones of craft. Many memoirists and essayists have grappled explicitly with them on the page.

... (read more)

Kerryn Goldsworthy reviews 'Geography' by Sophie Cunningham

Kerryn Goldsworthy
Friday, 07 February 2020

The first book of fiction is a little sub-genre with a number of readily recognisable features. It’s loosely structured and tends to be episodic, without much of a plot. It’s at least partly about love and sex, preferably of an obsessive or otherwise significant kind. And it’s at least partly autobiographical. If it’s already a bad book, then these things do tend to make it worse, but if it isn’t, then they don’t necessarily detract; it’s not a value judgement, just an observation.

... (read more)