Biography and Memoirs

You could call central casting for a debonair man of letters, but they’d never send someone as perfect for the role as Gore Vidal. By the time the stylish, sharp-witted – and yes, Hollywood-handsome – Vidal turned twenty-one, he had already served as first mate on a US supply ship in the Aleutian Islands duri ...

James McNamara reviews 'Penguin and the Lane Brothers'

James McNamara
Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Penguin is synonymous with publishing: a firm of vast influence and market share, whose ‘Classics’ imprint essentially arbitrates the modern canon. The founding myth goes something like this: Allen Lane, eccentric genius and publisher, was standing on a railway platform after a weekend with his chum, Agatha Christie. In want of a decent, cheap read, he visited a ...

Kerryn Goldsworthy reviews 'Thea Astley' by Karen Lamb

Kerryn Goldsworthy
Monday, 24 August 2015

‘If there are going to be any more of her novels, perhaps we should come right out and promote her as an utter bitch?’

So wrote Alec Bolton, the London manager of Angus & Robertson, to his senior editor John Abernethy in Sydney. The novelist in question was Thea Astley, and the book was A Boat Load of Home Folk (1968). Bol ...

Patti Miller has written four books of or about memoir, one of which, The Mind of a Thief (UQP, 2012) won the New South Wales Premier’s History Award, and she has taught life writing for more than twenty years. Yet her most recent publication, Ransacking Paris, while enjoyable at one level, is disappointing at another. There is a serious mismatch bet ...

Lyndon Megarrity reviews 'Through the Wall' by Anna Bligh

Lyndon Megarrity
Friday, 29 May 2015

After a substantial career as a minister in the Beattie government, Anna Bligh served as Queensland Labor premier from 2007 to 2012. She was the first female premier in Australia to lead her party to victory at a state election. These experiences have given her many interesting tales to tell about winning elections, retaining community and party support, as well as ...

Geoffrey Blainey reviews 'Bearing Witness' by Peter Rees

Geoffrey Blainey
Thursday, 28 May 2015

Charles Bean is now seen as one of the classiest journalists and historians Australia has produced. Like many talented historians, he had no prior training in his craft, except as a war correspondent during World War I, when he wrote in the face of daily and nightly dangers such as most war journalists no longer have to confront.

I have the strong impression ...

Carol Middleton reviews 'Passing Clouds' by Graeme Leith

Carol Middleton
Thursday, 30 April 2015

Graeme Leith’s intention in writing this memoir was to pass on his knowledge and experience as chief winemaker of Passing Clouds winery in Victoria. Along the way, he discovered there was a lot more to say about his seventy-three years of life as an adventurer, larrikin, and family man. The result is almost an autobiography, complete with photographs, traci ...

Despite their disparate subject matter, the central concerns of Geoff Dyer’s books remain the same. Whether he is writing about photography, D.H. Lawrence, taking you scene-by-scene through Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker, or, as in Another Great Day At Sea, spending two weeks aboard a US aircraft carrier, his abiding concerns – the self, the nature o ...

Colin Nettelbeck reviews 'Chasing Lost Time' by Jean Findlay

Colin Nettelbeck
Thursday, 30 April 2015

Jean Findlay had access to an impressive array of sources when writing this biography of her great-great uncle. She does not always make the best choices in navigating the mass of material: too many pages are cluttered with unsifted detail, and the family history genre often interferes with the biographical project of a significant public figure. However, the multip ...

Sheila Fitzpatrick reviews 'Bloodhound' by Ramona Koval

Sheila Fitzpatrick
Monday, 27 April 2015

This engaging but disturbing memoir describes Ramona Koval’s obsessive attempts to find herself another father than the one who had brought her up, the ‘Dad’ who was married to ‘Mama’. Dad and Mama, along with most of their circle in 1950s Melbourne, were Jewish immigrants from Poland, among the tens of thousands who came to Australia as displaced persons ...