Fiction

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Paul Hetherington reviews 'The Poet: A novella' by Alex Skovron

Paul Hetherington
Friday, 11 October 2019

The Poet is an unusual book. Dispensing with many of the conventions that underpin most extended works of prose fiction, such as significant characterisation, it presents a central protagonist, Manfred, who is ‘honest’ – as the author repeatedly states. Manfred is also a poet. The novella is written in formal and refined prose, as if the narrative style is designed to reflect Manfred’s obsessional nature and estranged condition: he has never been ‘in love’, is ‘something of a loner’ and is highly anxious.

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Judith Armstrong reviews 'Grace' by Robert Drewe

Judith Armstrong
Friday, 11 October 2019

The scope of this novel could hardly be more ambitious. It ranges from the landing ten thousand years ago of prehistoric men in primitive rafts on the shores of what would one day be known as the Kimberley, to the apparition of a young asylum seeker off a leaky, sinking boat in roughly the same locality during the present inhospitable times. In other words, it meets the challenge of major issues both immemorial and contemporary.

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In a recent feature article in the Guardian Review, William Boyd proposed a new system for the classification of short stories. He constructed seven stringently categorical descriptions and ended his article with a somewhat predictable – that is to say, canonical – list of ‘ten truly great stories’, among which were James Joyce’s ‘The Dead’, Vladimir Nabokov’s ‘Spring at Fialta’ and Jorge Luis Borges’s ‘Funes the Memorious’. Most of the writers cited were male, and the classifications were confident demarcations in terms of genre and mode (‘modernist’, ‘biographical’). It is difficult to know, and no doubt presumptuous to speculate, what Boyd would make of Frank Moorhouse’s edited collection The Best Australian Stories 2004. Garnering them ‘at large’ by advertisement and word of mouth, Moorhouse received one thousand stories, from which he selected ‘intriguing and venturesome’ texts, many of which display ‘innovations’ of form. Of the twenty-seven included, six are by first-time published writers and twenty are by women. This is thus an open, heterodox and explorative volume, unlike its four predecessors in this series in reach and inclusiveness. It is also, perhaps, more uneven in quality: a few stories in this selection are rather slight; and the decision to include two stories by two of the writers may seem problematic, given the large number of submissions and the fact that the editor claims there were fifty works fine enough to warrant publication. A character in one of the stories favourably esteems the fiction of Frank Moorhouse over that of David Malouf: this too may be regarded as a partisan inclusion.

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Geordie Williamson reviews 'Wanting' by Richard Flanagan

Geordie Williamson
Wednesday, 09 October 2019

For the inhabitants of mainland Australia, ‘history’ is often complicated by the sheer fact of geography. Instead of one central node, European colonisation expanded from multiple centres, each isolated in space and founded on differing socio-political premises over staggered periods of time, and each with populations too various in background to allow much in the way of agreement about some völkisch collective past.

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Elizabeth Jolley reviews 'Dancing on Coral' by Glenda Adams

Elizabeth Jolley
Monday, 07 October 2019

A mixture of courage and an innocent hopefulness seem to be the necessary ingredients for finding rewards and compensations during the painful searching after self-knowledge. Lark Watter, the student daughter of Henry and Mrs Watter, embarks, as so many do, on the voyage of self-discovery.

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Karen Lamb reviews 'Theft: A love story' by Peter Carey

Karen Lamb
Monday, 07 October 2019

Sometimes the best place to get a true picture of what Peter Carey is really thinking about his writing is in the international press coverage, in the slipstream of a book’s reception, when he is at least partly preoccupied with the next writing challenge. At such times, Carey’s sensitivities are vulnerable to exposure, as they were in an interview with Robert Birnbaum in an American regional newspaper after he won his second Booker Prize, for True History of the Kelly Gang (2000). Carey is speaking about readers and reviewers (whom he reluctantly acknowledges are also readers). Australian reviewers, he explains to his interviewer, are usually just journalists and therefore subject to literalness and plot summary, an approach that doesn’t work with his fiction.

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Margaret John reviews 'The Doubleman' by C.J Koch

Margaret John
Monday, 07 October 2019

C.J. Koch in this powerful and evocative novel, The Double Man, has applied a psychoanalytic model of human personality to fairytales and the fantastical world of myth: the pursuit of illusion as reality. Its ingenious double life is that of a modern-day fairy tale coupled with the face of 1960s man, paralysed with the despair of his era: its inability to cope with the breakdown of shared values and beliefs. Richard Miller is both the prince of the archetypal fairytale and the prototype of modern man trying to create a private reality out of ancestral beliefs. The Double Man recalls W.B. Yeats’s dread of the ‘rough beast…its hour come round at last’, and the warnings of Goethe who foresaw a time of such chaos: when odd spiritual leaders would emerge and man would turn full circle to find popular truth in ancient myths and legends.

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Peter Carey’s first novel, Bliss, will be self-recommending to all admirers of his astonishing short stories. The Fat Man in History and the even better War Crimes mark Carey as the most genuinely original of our storytellers – a fabulist and, in some corners of his imagination, a surrealist of disturbing power. Part of his achievement and, arguably, a sign of his freshness of vision is that his fictions manage so adroitly to slip through the critic’s webs of explication. They tend to resist any simple yielding up of their inner meaning at the same time as they touch the nerves of our general experience and social fears. The central figures of his narratives are typically trapped in the labyrinths of their obsessions or delusions, they are solitaries, often, like the fat men in the title story, both victims and perpetrators of their condition.

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The Transit of Venus has been widely acclaimed, and justly so: it is a great novel of passion and ambition, success and failure, written with elegance and wit, and magnificently structured. Still, despite the critical superlatives, few critics have attempted to come to grips with the power of Hazzard’s writing. There have been the inevitable comparisons with Jane Austen, and some attention has been paid to the symbolic connotations of the title, but little more. The prose and structure of the novel are worth examining in some detail because, seven years in the making, it is a most crafted and sculpted work of literary art.

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In Tirra Lirra by the River, an elderly woman, Norah Porteou, returns to live in her childhood home in Brisbane after forty years as a ‘London Australian’. The house is empty, so is her life. Norah is a ‘woman whose name is of no consequence’. She is sensitive, vaguely artistic, slightly superior (‘Mother,’ she appeals in a childhood scene, ‘don’t let Grace call me Lady Muck.’) The novel consists of a review of her past, with interruptions from half-remembered neighbours offering curious and resentful help.

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