Archive

The Story of Short Stories in Australia

Bruce Pascoe
Monday, 23 December 2019

People produce art to explain and honour the life they know, and to many the short story is a logical medium for that expression. The more futuristic art gurus, however, believe that printed pages are destined for extinction as an art form and that the short story will be first on the Dodo list.

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Having spent two decades or more writing massive verse novels – The Nightmarkets (1986) and The Lovemakers (2001, 2004) – it may seem that Alan Wearne, with his latest book of poetry, The Australian Popular Songbook, has finally returned to smaller forms and, as suggested by the title, a more lyrical idiom. But, as always with Wearne’s work, things aren’t that simple. The smaller forms were already present in the verse novels in the form of sonnets, villanelles and other verse forms buried in the sprawling architecture of the works’ narratives. The ‘lyrical idiom’ of The Australian Popular Songbook is ambiguous at best, offset as it is by Wearne’s characteristic attraction to the dramatic monologue, satire, vernacular culture and wrenched syntax.

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More than anything else, The Secret of Hanging Rock is an exercise in marketing strategies and packaging. The real question, what happened to the girls, is in the midst of this finally of little importance, although it could have been very important. Indeed, the final, previously unpublished chapter of Picnic at Hanging Rock is only one of four pieces of writing in the publishers’ package, each of which tries to be as important as the next.

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Laurie Clancy reviews 'Harland’s Half Acre' by David Malouf

Laurie Clancy
Friday, 20 December 2019

Apart from the theme of growth and adolescence (with which it often merges), perhaps the most common preoccupation of Australian novelists is the progress of a young man (usually) or woman towards artistic achievement and fulfilment. Frequently the field of art is pictorial. Patrick White’s The Vivisector, Thea Astley’s The Acolyte, Tony Morphett’s Thorskeld, and Barbara Hanrahan’s The Scent of Eucalyptus and Kewpie Doll, to name only those, all deal in some form or other with a painter of either actual or potential genius. It is, of course, one of the classic themes of twentieth-century fiction everywhere, but its pervasiveness among our writers suggests a self­conscious need to articulate the Australian experience and identity. Who better than the great artist to do it?

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The time is always four o’clock in the morning when Night Sister M. Shady (unregistered) is on duty at The Hospital of St Christopher and St Jude. The punctual milkman is swearing as he falls on the broken step, the elderly patients are having a water fight or an altercation or a game of cards. Whatever may or may not be going on, Mrs Shady will record with confidence ‘nothing abnormal to report’.

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Veronica Brady reviews 'Moonlite' by David Foster

Veronica Brady
Friday, 20 December 2019

I’ve always had a terror of one day having to explain a joke. And now it’s happened. Moonlite is one of the jokiest books since Such Is Life which in its turn reminds us of the even jokier Tristram Shandy and behind that no less than Rabelais himself. The best way to talk about Moonlite, then, is perhaps to say that it is bouncing, bewildering, wilful and – very occasionally – boring, just as these books are.

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Kevin Brophy reviews 'Night Parrots' by John Kinsella

Kevin Brophy
Friday, 20 December 2019

Lasseter, it has been said, was a strange man, admired for his unusual and innovative ideas. He told a story of being caught during a storm in Central Australia: he put all his clothes in a hollow log, stood naked until the storm passed, and was then able to don his dry clothing. Though some claim that Lasseter was at Gallipoli, he did become the source of another great Australian myth of failure.

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There nine stories in this volume are rich in people, satire, compassion, and humour. And set like ambushes, unexpected and surprising, are several cameos. It is a captivating, ensnaring book, but to call it a book of short stories would be so inadequate as to be misleading. There is an uncommon coherence, slender but powerful enough to raise it above that easy classification.

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Gerald Murnane reviews 'Holden's Performance' by Murray Bail

Gerald Murnane
Friday, 20 December 2019

As I write these words, I have just read the first forty-five pages of Murray Bail’s novel. Those pages are mostly about the Shadbolt family of Adelaide.

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Terri-ann White reviews 'The Golden Dress' by Marion Halligan

Terri-ann White
Friday, 20 December 2019

Marion Halligan’s new novel has as its centrepiece, shiny and assertive, flagged by its title, a dress made with loving care but, nonetheless, improvised just so that the fabric will go far enough. A dress that Molly Pellerin wears to a party at the laundry where she works, an event that becomes a defining moment in her life, the dress a legacy, offering an image of Molly as dazzling, beautiful, and loved. The photograph sustains her memory, potently, permanently.

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