Fiction

noun Stack of Books 2157520

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Recent:

noun Stack of Books 2157520

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Recent:

The American writer Jack Matthews had no time for what he called ‘a discontent’ with the brevity of the short story. ‘Ask a coral snake,’ he declared, ‘which is as deadly as it is small.’ The claim for ‘deadliness’ certainly applies to four recent début collections; in the tight spaces of the short story, each one presents confronting ideas about contemporary Australia.

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Much political mileage has been made in Australia from the turning back of ‘boat people’. Travel by boat is the cheapest means of getting to this island continent, and the most dangerous. Boat travellers are the poorest and the most likely to be caught and deported or sent to an offshore camp. But their number is less than half of those who arrive by air as tourists and apply for refugee protection: some 100,000 have done so during the seven years of this Coalition government.

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‘When a writer is born into a family, the family is finished.’ That gunshot of a quotation comes from the Polish poet Czesław Miłosz. I suspect he means writers are traitors to biology – they have higher allegiances than blood ties. Art is their true spouse; their works are the favoured first-born.

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The poet Anne Michaels once wrote that when love finds us, our pasts suddenly become obsolete science. All the secret places left fallow by loneliness are flooded with light and the immanence of the longed-for one draws us into the clearing, stains us with radiance. Yeats’s wing-footed wanderer arrives at last and the miraculous restorations of love and the imperatives of desire render our separate pasts ‘old maps, disproved theories, a diorama’.

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Wolves and goats. The goats represent the ego. They control time, represent culture, continuity, the status quo. They live in the grandfather clock that is at once history and the records of the psychoanalyst. The wolves are the id, the unconscious, desire. They are also reason, and they triumph over time. The Wolf-Man led Freud to his understanding of the war of the id on the ego. Freud identified as neurotics those who, unable to live with the war, regress to the instinctive, the primitive, the animal.

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Grand Days is volume one of Frank Moorhouse’s Palais des Nations novels, and is connected to the author’s previous works Forty-Seventeen and The Electrical Experience by the characters of Edith Campbell Berry and George McDowell. The principal narrative of Grand Days goes on for 500 or so pages, and is followed by some thirty pages of notes and explanations which form another narrative. The most interesting narrative of all, to me, however, is the story of where this book fits into the life and work of Frank Moorhouse.

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Barbara Hanrahan has set much of her work on studies of childhood, sometimes childhood which is involved with fantasy and evil. Always, however, the children are presented through their memories of the minutiae of daily life, vignettes formed by detail, which is vividly presented, conveying the remembered sights, sounds, and smells of childhood and adolescence. Amongst the pictures of plants and pets, houses and relatives, one finds often rather scrofulous details; the hairs in grandpa’s nose, the squeezing of grandma’s blackheads, the smell in the pit dunny, the scurf on aunt’s scalp, the wetting of a bed, the snot discards on the carpet, the persistence of the dog’s penis, glimpses of adult (usually unattractive) bodies, spied­on sexual activity, and the groping of old men under girls’ skirts.

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The usher of the book’s title is T. Nelson Downs, long-time resident of Burleigh Heads. (The T. Doesn’t stand for anything; it was a parental whim.) He’s one of those wonderful, original, exasperating people full of impossible ideas (such as marketing gigantic ice sculptures for public occasions using skilled tradesmen brought out especially from Florence).

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Three débuts about female experience

Susan Midalia
24 February 2020

Three recent début novels employ the genre of the Bildungsroman to explore the complexities of female experience in the recent historical past. Anna Goldsworthy, widely known and admired as a memoirist, essayist, and musician, has now added a novel, Melting Moments (Black Inc., $29.99 pb, 240 pp), to her list of achievements.

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True West is the latest historical crime thriller from David Whish-Wilson, author of The Summons (2006), Perth (2013), The Coves (2018), and the Frank Swann series. True West is set in Western Australia in 1988, the time when Jack van Tongeren’s Australian Nationalist Movement (ANM) was papering the city with hundreds of thousands of racist posters, and when John Howard and Ian Sinclair were calling for a reduction in Asian immigration. True West ’s protagonist, seventeen-year-old Lee Southern, is on the run from the Knights, a Geraldton-based bikie gang whose marijuana plantation he torched in retaliation for his father’s murder.

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