VIC contributor

Critic of the Month with Paul Giles

Australian Book Review
Wednesday, 25 November 2020

Besides a capacity to write well, critics need to be well-informed. I sometimes get exasperated by reviewers without sufficient expertise in the topics they are considering. On the other hand, academic pedantry can also be off-putting, particularly when couched in a clunky style. In general, I’ve found the most memorable pieces to be those which say something about the reviewer as well as the author under review, like portraits which work through a kind of double vision, offering insights into the painter as well as the sitter. There was a very good essay on Les Murray by J.M. Coetzee in the New York Review of Books a few years ago which had this double-edged quality.

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Geoff Goodfellow is best known as a poet. Out of Copley Street, his first non-verse publication, chronicles his working-class coming of age in Adelaide’s inner-northern suburbs during the 1950s and 1960s.

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Save the Children in Stockholm wanted to highlight the unfair distribution of global wealth, so it invented an online game called The Lottery of Life. This invited Swedes to a website to spin the wheel of chance. If you were born again tomorrow, where would you appear?

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It is not surprising that a book on the politicisation of intelligence in Australia should begin and end by referring to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. For many Australians, that episode will long remain the classic example of the misuse of intelligence for partisan political purposes, in sharp contrast to the ideal that intelligence analysts should speak truth to power, giving policymakers their unvarnished assessments, rather than telling them what they want to hear.

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What is to be done? The question is asked whenever humankind confronts a new crisis. And the answers, whether from biblical sources, Tolstoy, or Lenin (or indeed Barry Jones in his imminent book, What Is To Be Done?), must confront universal moral quandaries at the same time as they address local needs, hopes, and aspirations.

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Thucydides once said, ‘In a democracy, someone who fails to get elected to office can always console himself with the thought that there was something not quite fair about it.’ Chris Wallace is not inclined to agree with the Greek historian, particularly when dissecting the Labor Party’s shock federal election loss in 2019. In her latest book, How to Win an Election, Wallace nominates the ten things that Labor must get right to succeed at the next federal election, and self-pity is nowhere among them. This approach appears simplistic, even tongue-in-cheek at times, but she has captured the key elements of electoral success and makes a strong case that Australia cannot afford another ALP loss.

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Tony Page’s Anh and Lucien is an intricately plotted verse novel set in French Indochina during World War II. It centres on an unlikely same-sex love affair between Lucien, a colonial bureaucrat, and Anh, a young Vietnamese communist who supports Ho Chi Minh’s independence movement.

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The vision was of a brown-skinned child standing by her side. She sensed it so keenly that she could even feel the child’s warmth. It was so striking she wondered about her sanity … but as time went by, she became more comfortable with her vision, accepted it as something precious, a visitation of some sort that only she knew about.’

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Who was John Maynard Keynes? Was he the bookish Cambridge don who penned ambitious theories to overturn the tenets of economics and political liberalism? Or was he Baron Keynes of Tilton, the ardent imperialist who viewed British rule as a benevolent force bringing justice, liberty, and prosperity to the societies it administered? Was he a meticulous Lothario who kept lists of his hookups with anonymous men on notecards? Was he also a political statesman who lambasted the intransigency of his colleagues during fraught negotiations in two world wars?

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Anna MacDonald reviews 'Honeybee' by Craig Silvey

Anna MacDonald
Thursday, 22 October 2020

Honeybee, Craig Silvey’s highly anticipated new novel, his first since Jasper Jones (2009), chronicles the coming of age of fourteen-year-old transgender narrator Sam Watson, who was assigned male at birth. This is a story of desperate loneliness and fear, of neglect, family violence, betrayal, and self-disgust. But it is also one of love and solidarity, a celebration of the kindness of strangers who become family and friends.

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