Fiction

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Veronica Brady reviews 'Moonlite' by David Foster

Veronica Brady
20 December 2019

I’ve always had a terror of one day having to explain a joke. And now it’s happened. Moonlite is one of the jokiest books since Such Is Life which in its turn reminds us of the even jokier Tristram Shandy and behind that no less than Rabelais himself. The best way to talk about Moonlite, then, is perhaps to say that it is bouncing, bewildering, wilful and – very occasionally – boring, just as these books are.

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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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As I write these words, I have just read the first forty-five pages of Murray Bail’s novel. Those pages are mostly about the Shadbolt family of Adelaide.

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Marion Halligan’s new novel has as its centrepiece, shiny and assertive, flagged by its title, a dress made with loving care but, nonetheless, improvised just so that the fabric will go far enough. A dress that Molly Pellerin wears to a party at the laundry where she works, an event that becomes a defining moment in her life, the dress a legacy, offering an image of Molly as dazzling, beautiful, and loved. The photograph sustains her memory, potently, permanently.

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Intimacy, someone has said, is ultimately unintelligible. Yet this novel suggests that intimacy, to the self and to others, may well be all we have. Miller’s three previous novels move in a similar direction. But in them there was a good deal still of the world of the likeness, of the external world as it seems to be. The Sitters, however, is about drawing a portrait of an ‘art of misrepresentation’, which interrupts our historical consciousness and unmasks the pretentions of rationality, taking us out into the dark beyond common sense, touching something else beyond words.

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Beverley Farmer is one of a group of women writers celebrated in Gillian Whitlock’s collection of excerpts from their work, Eight Voices of the Eighties. Its introduction begins with a remark attributed to Elizabeth Jolley where she calls the 1980s in Australia ‘a moment of glory for the woman writer’. Beverley Farmer’s first novel, Alone, was published in 1980, at the beginning of this period of renaissance and recognition of women’s writing as central to a national literary culture.

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Barbara Hanrahan has made her own the ostensibly artless narrative of simple women. Monologue might be a better word than narrative; the idea of a speaking voice is important. ‘I was born in a war, I grew up in a war, and there was war all along’ is how this one begins. It’s the Japanese War in China, the country is occupied, food is short, rice must be queued for. ‘And if the queue didn’t disappear, the Japanese up above would come to the windows and bring out the chamber pots and pour down all their terrible peeing.’ It’s a harsh world to be growing up in, but there’s a matter-of-factness in the way it’s talked about. ‘War’s war forever, until it ends.’ Or starts again. The end of this war is the beginning of the next; the communists come, one kind of oppression replaces another.

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Kris Hemensley reviews 'Visions' by Kevin Brophy

Kevin Brophy
20 December 2019

Elizabeth Riddell quipped about Kevin Brophy’s first novel, Getting Away With It (Wildgrass, 1982), that he hadn’t! I do not recall anything else of her review, but must confess that it also replaced my own estimation of the book. With hindsight, it’s clear that the novel has too many attributes to be disqualified, however wittily. Furthermore, Brophy’s new novel, Visions, recovers the best of his earlier novel’s operations, advancing them this time in an entirely coherent and often marvellous manner.

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The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has revealed systemic mistreatment of vulnerable children over decades. Though these crimes have not been the exclusive province of the Catholic Church, its education system has brought more children into intimate care by religious orders, and even those never abused have observed the tics of brutality in some of their teachers and mentors. In a note at the end of his new novel, In Whom We Trust, John Clanchy mentions James Joyce’s hell-fire sermon in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916) and the recurrence of these ‘tropes of terror’ in the rhetoric he heard as a Catholic schoolboy in 1960s Melbourne. The system has long-standing practices of psychological control.

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