In 1942, Elio Vittorini managed to circumvent the Fascist censors and publish Americana, a landmark anthology of thirty-three American authors. The aim of this massive project – over a thousand pages with translations into Italian carried out by ten significant literary figures of the time, including Alberto Moravia, Cesare Pavese, and Nobel Laureate poet Eugenio Montale – was to introduce iconic American voices to Italian readers. In assembling her substantial collection of forty Italian short stories, Jhumpa Lahiri set herself the same objective but in reverse: to introduce Italian authors to American readers. Lahiri declares Vittorini was her ‘guiding light’, not only for the general design of the work but also ‘in writing the brief author biographies – intended as partial sketches and not definitive renderings – that preface each story’.... (read more)
Thanks to the internet, the 24/7 news cycle, and social media, certain books are preceded by their reputations. They arrive freighted with so much publicity hype that reading them with fresh eyes is almost impossible. A Constant Hum is one such book, very much the product of a reputation established well before publication, due to the airing of individual stories in places like Seizure and Meanjin, along with several prizes and shortlistings.... (read more)
As the ship carrying nine-year-old Cleary Sullivan and his mother, Cate, sets sail from Liverpool, there is a ‘flurry’ among the passengers. A ‘violent slash of red; tall as a house and shining wet’ has appeared on the dock, visible only to those onboard. Cleary’s mind fills with images of ‘some diabolical creature of the deep, blood erupting from its mouth’. The reality is more prosaic – some spilt paint – but it is an ominous beginning.
Like Meg Mundell’s début, Black Glass (2011), The Trespassers takes place in an unforgiving near-future. Cleary is one of more than three hundred masked passengers escaping a pandemic-riven United Kingdom. Their passage to Australia has been arranged through the ‘Balanced Industries Migration’ scheme, indentured servitude in all but name. The old-fashioned mode of transport and technological restrictions imposed on the passengers, combined with sailors casually shooting down drones, and terms like ‘shippers’, ‘sanning’, and ‘the stream’, give the novel an almost timeless quality, though its concerns are very much of the moment.... (read more)
When Claude Monet lived in Argenteuil in the 1870s, he famously worked in a studio-boat on the Seine. He painted the river, he painted bridges over the river, he painted snow, the sky, his children and his wife, and, famously, a field of red poppies with a large country house in the background. Argenteuil is to Paris roughly what Heidelberg and Templestowe are to Melbourne. Once a riparian haven for plein air painters interested in capturing the transient optics of natural phenomena, it is now a suburban interface with a diminishing habitat for anything but humans.
Actually, Heidelberg and Templestowe are in good shape when compared to Monet’s old river haunt. When he was living in Argenteuil, the population was fewer than 10,000 people, most of whom were asparagus farmers, vintners, fishermen, and craftspeople. Now the suburb is home to more than 100,000, many of whom are commuters making the train trip into Paris every day to work. The only shimmering light of interest would probably come from their phones.... (read more)
‘What kind of game is the sea?’ asks the speaker of Tracy K. Smith’s poem ‘Minister of Saudade’. ‘Lap and drag’, comes the response, ‘Crag and gleam / That continual work of wave / And tide’. It is not until the end of The Weekend that the sea’s majestic game is brought into focus, and then the natural world rises, a riposte, to eclipse human trivia ...... (read more)
This novel is about the redemption of a man believed to have committed murder. E. Annie Proulx, in her discontinuous novel Postcards (1993), sympathetically traces the tragic life of a protagonist who raped and accidentally killed his lover. Heather Rose poses a similar ethical question about a protagonist who was a real person; she imagines a post-murder existence for the infamous Lord Lucan, who in 1974 was accused of murdering his children’s nanny and of violently attacking his estranged wife.... (read more)
The past is not dead. In fact, it’s not even past; it keeps coming back as different novels, and writers do things differently there. Nazi Germany remains history’s prime hothouse from which to procure blooms for fiction’s bouquet. All those darkly perfumed spikes – drama and tragedy intrinsic, memory within recall.... (read more)
Sarah Kanowski reviews 'The Singing' by Stephanie Bishop and 'The Patron Saint Of Eels' by Gregory Day
The Singing is the inaugural publication in the Varuna Firsts series, a collaboration between the Varuna Writers’ House and Brandl & Schlesinger. Both should be applauded for bringing a distinctive new voice into Australian writing; not to mention the honour due to the prodigious talent of Stephanie Bishop herself. Bishop has written a haunting novel with a seemingly simple story: love gone awry. A woman runs into an ex-lover on the street (neither protagonist is named), and this meeting throws her back into the story of their past. The two narratives – her solitary life now and the tale, mainly, of the relationship’s end – run in parallel. The novel’s energy, however, is ruminative rather than linear, circling around the nature of their love, pressing at the bruises left by its collapse.... (read more)
Just before the publication of her novel Dark Places in 1994, Kate Grenville said that she was thinking about her next book, ‘a heart-warming old-fashioned love story’. Well, The Idea of Perfection – and isn’t that what all love stories are about? – is that love story, though it warms both heart and head, for the bliss it affords is not so much visceral as aesthetic, even architectural.... (read more)
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.... (read more)