Biography and Memoirs
Robert Dessaix’s authorial voice reminds me of Christina Stead’s description of a small, clear wave running up a beach at low tide, playfully ‘ringing its air-bells’. He is not a writer of direct, declarative prose. Instead, Dessaix specialises in sentences that skip over and around their subjects, sometimes darting nimbly into brackets to investigate a seco ... More
Much like her government, Julia Gillard’s memoir resembles the proverbial curate’s egg. Where her passions are involved, as with education (‘Our Children’) or the fair work laws, we are provided with a compelling policy read. Where they are not, as in large slabs of foreign policy, the insightful competes with the pedestrian, enlivened admittedly with her pe ... More
Brooke Hemphill knows hers was not meant to be an ordinary existence, yet by her early twenties she is engaged and planning the perfect wedding – with the wrong guy. She breaks it off and moves in with a married man. He, too, is wrong for her. She works on an island resort and falls for another, but he takes off for Europe. She travels to the United States and wor ... More
The last photographs taken of Jean Galbraith show a wrinkled woman in her eighties, with wispy hair pulled back in a bun, wearing round tortoiseshell spectacles, thick stockings, and sensible shoes – the kind of person you might expect to see serving behind the counter of a country post office early last century, or pouring en ... More
I am a ‘Sputnik’, born in the year the Soviet satellite launched the Cold War into space. The launching by the Russians of the first artificial Earth satellite on 4 October 1957 seemed to many in the West a threatening symbol of escalating superpower rivalry. And it did unleash extreme military anxiety and triggered what became known as the Space Race. Twelve ye ... More
There is a built-in paradox for the Greens: they need to both persuade people that we face major ecological disasters and at the same time hold out hope that we can respond meaningfully to them. To do this requires the sort of corny and touching optimism that gives Bob Brown’s book its title.
Optimism is neither a conventional memoir nor a political ... More
Already, Anu Singh’s story is grimly familiar. Now free again, just thirty-one, she has entered the popular pantheon of malefactors. Her attractive face appears in the newspapers, taut with self-justification. There is talk of a documentary. Notoriety, even a kind of celebrity – that amoral nirvana – is hers.
If Singh’s deepest motivation f ... More
The brain, notes philosopher Paul Churchland, is the engine of reason and the seat of the soul. David Roland’s memoir of stroke and its aftermath presents a vivid picture of engine failure and a soul unseated. His book lays bare the disorienting realities of brain injury and his gradual but faltering steps towards recovery. In time he adjusts to having a somewhat ... More
Lucky Shirley Temple! Film star biographies are usually made up of a chronology laced with doubtful studio publicity and salacious gossip. But The Little Girl Who Fought the Great Depression is written by a reigning scholar of American culture, John F. Kasson. A professor of History and American Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Kass ... More
In Boyhood Island, the third volume in Karl Ove Knausgaard’s internationally acclaimed My Struggle cycle, we are taken back to where the series began: an island in southern Norway, seven-year-old Karl Ove and his older brother Yngve live under the tyranny of a cruel and taciturn father in the mid-1970s. Unlike the first volume, A Death in the Fami ... More