University of Queensland Press

A good novel can use personal drama to humanise history. A small story becomes powerful because of the ideas it represents, and the political, removed from the realm of theory and made concrete, has a tangible impact that can foster empathy and understanding. When done poorly, as it is here, the reverse occurs and the large concepts are reduced, lessened into triviality by the hollowness of the tale.

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The Inheritance of Ivorie Hammer is a novel that manages to be absolutely itself, with a wholly idiosyncratic voice, while at the same time acting as a veritable echo chamber of earlier writers. The first page, with its lofty insistence about what ‘should not surprise the world’ in the behaviour of a young woman with the surname Ward, immediately calls to mind Mansfield Park, and the Austen echo is redoubled by the fact that her first name is Marianne. However, Preston’s narrator proceeds to address her readers with a confidence she might have learned from Anthony Trollope, while elsewhere providing information in bulleted lists, a trick Laurence Sterne would probably have found useful had he been writing a couple of centuries later.

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The epigraph from Plato’s Phaedrus cleverly introduces the Socratic dialogue on which David Brooks’s new novel turns. This makes for a brilliant foray into the contradictions at the heart of the truths that both characters are seeking in The Conversation. This question-and-answer exchange is presented as a kind of Scheherazadian dégustation of narratives, where the novel endures for as long as the stories continue. For this reason, the emphasis is on pauses, languor, and an understanding of the way in which something can consume (‘eat away at’) a person.

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The Amber Amulet by Craig Silvey & Word Hunters: The Curious Dictionary by Nick Earls and Terry Whidborne

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November 2012, no. 346

Craig Silvey’s The Amber Amulet is a deceptively simple tale that hides many classic themes within its layers. By night, twelve-year-old Liam McKenzie patrols Franklin Street in the guise of super-hero the Masked Avenger, aided (and sometimes hindered) by his sidekick, Richie the Powerbeagle. The prime belief underpinning the Masked Avenger’s doctrine is the enormous potential of dormant energy that is trapped in gemstones and minerals, which hold specific powers. He believes that energy is omnipresent, but as the world is both positively and negatively charged, he is very aware that the balance between good and evil can easily be disturbed, and he is thus constantly on the lookout for ‘Trouble’.

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Venero Armanno’s latest novel begins implausibly. A young man is troubled by a recurring dream about a faceless, one-armed, blob-like creature being throttled by someone wearing a pale blue shirt. This troubled dreamer is Mark Alter (the unsubtle last name underlines one of the book’s central concerns), a university drop-out estranged from his parents and now leading a grungy existence in a seaside shack. The cavalcade of unlikely events starts on page four. After watching a so-called ‘cheap slasher film’ at his local cinema, Mark decides to turn his nightmare into a screenplay about ‘a shape-shifting demon from the Id’. The title? No-Face, of course. Mark sends his work to various producer types. One of these bigwigs replies by telephone (this is a novel where implausibilities are piled very high indeed) and accuses Mark of plagiarism. According to this famous producer, No-Face has ripped off the obscure novel Black Mountain, written five years before by the equally obscure Cesare Montenero.

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This volume contains all the poems that Rosemary Dobson wants to preserve. They represent a substantial portion of her output, which seems right for a poet who began with a degree of quiet confidence and poise that belied her youth. From the earliest, published when she was in her twenties ...

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In Ruby Moon’s family, the colour red is associated with shame, sin, death, and – much later – love, triumph, and happiness. Creative, introverted Ruby (nicknamed ‘Button’ after swallowing one as a child) is twin to daring Sally. Ruby describes them as one moth: ‘two wings grown from the same beginning.’ Two halves, not yet formed.

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Even at the age of eighty-four it appears that our censors of old possessed a moral clarity that no longer exists. Censorship was carried out by the state as a force of moral purpose, protecting the population from the consequences of reading banned literature: to wit, moral decline and subversion, particularly among the powerless. This was pertinent to children whose innocence entailed a lack of knowledge of moral turpitude and who were seen as particularly vulnerable.

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Frontier Justice by Andy Lamey & Contesting Citizenship by Anne McNevin

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April 2012, no. 340

Australian advocates of a harsh line against asylum seekers arriving by boat often base their arguments on a concern for the protection of human life. Unless we deter boat people, so the reasoning goes, ever greater numbers will set out on the dangerous voyage from Indonesia, and more and more lives will be lost at sea. This may sound like a novel position, but, as Andy Lamey makes clear in Frontier Justice: The Global Refugee Crisis and What to Do about It, the argument is well worn. In the early 1990s, Presidents Bush Sr and Clinton used similar justifications to defend a policy of intercepting boats from Haiti and returning them directly to Port au Prince, without making any assessment as to whether those on board might have claims to protection from Haiti’s dictatorial régime.

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About a third of the way into Simon Cleary’s Closer to Stone, all of the preceding distinctively phrased metaphors and similes, all of the fragrant, lucid imagery – along with some that is rather less than lucid: how, exactly, does one pick up a drink and take a ‘deep sip’? – begin to meld into a compelling whole. Narrator Bas Adams, scouring the immense unknown of the Sahara Desert in southern Algeria for his brother Jack, who has been absent without notice from duty as a United Nations peacekeeping soldier, has come across the woman who last saw him alive. Sophia, a strong-willed, self-sufficient American schoolteacher, informs Bas that Jack had been undergoing a process of recuperation, though not from any physical ailment: ‘his need,’ she says, ‘was like a wound [...] he was dying inside, and he had the courage to choose another life.’

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