VIC contributor

This is a remarkable book – not so much for its subject matter as for the intensity of the passionate involvement of one writer with another. From the beginning, it is clear that this is not a conventional biography or book of criticism. A.N. Wilson approaches Charles Dickens through seven different mysteries about his life. The principal one, which underlies the whole book, is the mystery of what makes Dickens such an utterly compelling writer.

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Anders Villani reviews 'Tilt' by Kate Lilley

Anders Villani
Thursday, 24 September 2020

‘Even if truth be drawn from the work,’ writes Maurice Blanchot, ‘the work overruns it, takes it back into itself to bury and hide it.’ This strange, poetic movement to conceal what is manifest brings to mind another statement, by the psychiatrist and author Judith Herman: ‘The conflict between the will to deny horrible events and the will to proclaim them aloud is the central dialectic of psychological trauma.’

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Judith Bishop reviews 'Change Machine' by Jaya Savige

Judith Bishop
Thursday, 24 September 2020

Change Machine is an exceptionally strong third collection. To the extent that a schematic of thesis–antithesis– synthesis applies to poets’ books, this one both exceeds and incorporates the work that came before. Intriguingly, the title poem seems a late addition, citing the pandemic in three clipped lines, borne on the shoulders of two innocuous words, should and but:

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The store of knowledge available to humanity has never been so immense and accessible as it is today. Nor has it been so vulnerable to neglect or erasure. That, in essence, is the message of this book, written with urgency by the most senior executive at the Bodleian Libraries at Oxford, one of the largest and oldest library systems in the world.

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Jeremy D. Popkin, a historian at the University of Kentucky, fittingly begins his account of the French Revolution with a printer in Lexington enthusing in late 1793 about the ideals of the Revolution of 1789 in his Kentucky Almanac. The printer’s geographic distance from the events in Paris meant that his idealistic vision of the Revolution coincided with its most violent and repressive period in 1793–94, later dubbed ‘the Reign of Terror’. This juxtaposition of 1789 and 1793 is useful for Popkin to make his key point that, ‘despite its shortcomings, however, the French Revolution remains a vital part of the heritage of democracy’.

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Last spring, as the harbingers of a dangerous season converged into a chorus of forewarning, I decided it might be a good idea to keep a diary of the period now known as ‘Black Summer’. The diary starts in September with landscapes burning in southern Queensland and Brazil. Three hundred thousand people rally across Australia, calling for action on climate change. I attend a forum of emergency managers where, during a discussion about warning systems, a senior fire manager declares: ‘We need to tell the public we cannot help them in the ways they expect, but we’re never going to tell them.’ Next week, Greg Mullins, the former NSW fire and rescue commissioner, comments on ABC radio, ‘We’re going to have fires that I can’t comprehend.’ Federal politicians assure the nation that we are resilient.

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Melburnians above a certain age will remember Coles in Bourke Street. Unknown to most of them, it stood on the site of another Coles, Cole’s Book Arcade, for half a century probably the most famous shop in Australia. Its founder, Edward William Cole, is now the subject of an engaging biography by Richard Broinowski.

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Black and Republican in the Age of Trump

Michael L. Ondaatje
Thursday, 24 September 2020

While on the campaign trail against Hillary Clinton in 2016, Donald Trump appeared to deviate from a scripted speech he was delivering in Dimondale, Michigan. What followed was remarkable: ‘At the end of four years, I guarantee you that I will get over ninety-five per cent of the African-American vote. I promise you.’ Undaunted by six decades of black voting behaviour and his own poor standing with African-Americans, not to mention the fact that he had yet to defeat Clinton, Trump promised a ‘new deal for black America’ that would spark a decisive black shift to the Republican Party. African-Americans had long been the nation’s most partisan racial group: since 1964, no Republican presidential candidate had won more than thirteen per cent of the black vote, and no Democrat less than eighty-two per cent. Yet Trump, a man with a long and divisive racial history, vowed that he would soon rival Barack Obama for electoral appeal among African-Americans.

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Actually Existing Australia

Louis Klee
Thursday, 24 September 2020

Pale ankles in the mountains, divergences
on a quarry. We are witness to it
land and witness to it
some fact of further summer
or things a truck driver might say ...

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Jane Sullivan reviews 'Max' by Alex Miller

Jane Sullivan
Thursday, 24 September 2020

When Alex Miller first thought of writing about Max Blatt, he imagined a celebration of his life. But would Max have wanted that? He was a melancholy, chainsmoking European migrant, quiet and self-effacing, who claimed nothing for himself except defeat and futility.

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