Fiction

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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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Anne Diamond reviews 'Sister Ships' by Joan London

Anne Diamond
Friday, 07 February 2020

Fiction which is well-choreographed is difficult to resist. Joan London’s first collection of short stories, Sister Ships, is a dancerly go at mimesis; poised, unerring, it keeps its promises. And to run the tautological line between ‘literature’ and life, as all writing must, reminds us of the possibility for faux pas as well as the pas de deux; in one instance, an amnesia as to what has already been said, and in the other, stories which are so gracefully designed that they can say the same thing twice, or more, and we remember and witness such repetitions with pleasure.

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Mary Lord reviews 'Loving Daughters' by Olga Masters

Mary Lord
Friday, 07 February 2020

With her first book, the short story collection The Home Girls, Olga Masters has made her ‘own’ a particularly neglected area of Australian life and a special way of seeing it. She also became an award winner in the 1983 NBC Awards for Australian Literature. Now, with her first novel, Loving Daughters she confirms the impression that a unique voice and an important one has joined the ranks of our major storytellers. Her territory is confined to the lives of ordinary country-folk in the period between the wars, in the present work the period around the early 1920s and the place a small farming township on the south coast of New South Wales.

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Thomas Shapcott uses as a basis for his novel the fascinating life story of Karoly Pulszky, who left Hungary as the disgraced Director of the National Gallery of Art and who committed suicide after two months in Queensland. Pulszky, a forceful and flamboyant man, followed in the footsteps of his distinguished father in building up Hungary’s art collection. He was married to Emilia Markus, ‘The Blonde Wonder of Budapest, the Greatest Actress in Hungary’. Financial mismanagement enabled his family’s political enemies to bring him down and he left Hungary in shame. Years after his death, one of his two daughters, Romola, married Nijinsky, and she wrote extensively about her own colourful life. Shapcott draws on her writings with considerable skill.

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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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John Hanrahan reviews 'Schindler’s Ark' by Thomas Keneally

John Hanrahan
Friday, 07 February 2020

Thomas Keneally excels in stories of guilt. Schindler’s Ark joins Bring Larks and Heroes and The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith as his best work so far. Organised and complacent cruelty to convicts, to blacks, to Jews grabs Keneally’s imagination to produce his most powerful novels. On one level, Schindler’s Ark is the story of a man who played the system to ensure the survival of his Jewish factory workers. On another level, it is their story, a compelling narrative of suffering and the will to survive. Fifty years after Hitler’s vaguely democratic marching to power, Keneally compels us to believe in the reality of the Holocaust. He writes of death, separation, and survival with the matter-of-fact authority of Kevin Heinz telling us how to mulch our petunias in a time of drought.

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Returning to live in Queensland seems to have done something to Thea Astley’s perception of Australian country life. In this novel, as well as in her previous one, A Kindness Cup, she gives as appalling and scathing a vision of life in rural Australia as has come from any novelist since Barbara Baynton. Although her prose is as bitingly astringent as ever in this book, it lacks the sardonic humour of her recent collection of short stories Hunting the Wild Pineapple. The pessimism and anger are almost unrelieved.

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Laurie Clancy reviews 'The Bodysurfers' by Robert Drewe

Laurie Clancy
Friday, 07 February 2020

This collection of twelve stories by the author of The Savage Crows and A Cry in the Jungle Bar seeks to explore and define what Drewe sees as a part of our national psyche, the preoccupation with the coast and with the ‘careless violent hedonism’, as one of the characters puts it, of beach life. In ‘Looking for Malibu’, David Lang, who appears in several of the stories, defines it for a then fellow expatriate in a discussion about criminals on the run. ‘If their enemies were middle-class Australians they’d know where to look for them,’ he says. ‘You know something? When Australians run away they always run to the coast. They can’t help it. An American vanishes, he could be living in New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, the mountains, the desert, anywhere. Not an Australian-he goes up the coast or down the coast and thinks he’s vanished without a trace.’

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Gerard Windsor reviews 'The Plains' by Gerald Murnane

Gerard Windsor
Thursday, 30 January 2020

The Plains is a book for the critic, not the mere reviewer. It is a strange creature, to be approached with care. Several omens made me cautious. My review copy reached me three months after the date of posting.

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Liam Davidson reviews 'Movie Dreams' by Rosie Scott

Liam Davidson
Monday, 23 December 2019

There’s a line in the film Out of the Past: ‘I think I’m in a frame, I’m going in there to look for the picture.’ Reading this book is a bit like that. Not that Scott necessarily writes with one eye on the film rights (though Movie Dreams may well translate effectively to film), but because the book is largely an exploration of the influence of popular movies on the imaginative life – especially the imaginative life of a troubled adolescent who once had film school aspirations.

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