VIC contributor

What a title, and what a début novel. Jessie Tu brings us Jena Lin, a twenty-two-year-old Asian Australian sex addict who was once a violin prodigy fêted around the world. She is a character to remember. The reader knows this from the beginning, and the compelling narrative tension is driven by the slow revelation of an event that occurred seven years before the novel begins.

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Towards the end of his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Overstory (2018), Richard Powers attempts to articulate why literature, or more precisely the novel, has struggled to encompass climate change: ‘To be human is to confuse a satisfying story with a meaningful one, and to mistake life for something huge with two legs. No: life is mobilized on a vastly larger scale, and the world is failing precisely because no novel can make the contest for the world seem as compelling as the struggles between a few lost people.’

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Obituaries for neoliberalism have been coming thick and fast in recent years. Resurgent populist governments appealing to white, middle-class values, with rich subsidies for privileged sectors but austerity for others, might sound the death knell for the self-regulating markets, small government, and economising rationality commonly associated with contemporary neoliberalism. ‘That key voices on the right,’ economist Richard Denniss recently quipped regarding Australia, now ‘devote so much time to advocating the importance of Western culture and Australian values is proof that they have abandoned the fundamental neoliberal tenet that economic growth can solve all social and environmental problems’.

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It is curious the way certain books can insinuate themselves into your consciousness. I am not necessarily talking about favourite books, or formative ones that evoke a particular time and place, but those stray books that seem to have been acquired almost inadvertently (all bibliophiles possess such volumes, I’m sure), and taken up without any particular expectations, books that have something intriguing about them that keeps drawing you back.

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In a long career talking to and about politicians, I have learned one thing. While many fantasise about being prime minister, the key driver is to get close to the centre. Christopher Pyne captures this immediately in The Insider, comparing the political world to the solar system in which the skill is to know one’s place relative to the sun (the prime minister), and the aim is to get as close to the sun as possible. To be an insider, to know how things work, with privileged information that few others share, is the allure.

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J.R. Burgmann reviews 'Ghost Species' by James Bradley

J.R. Burgmann
Friday, 24 April 2020

James Bradley’s Ghost Species arrives at a time when fiction seems outpaced by the speed with which we humans are changing the planet. Alarmingly, such writerly speculation has been realised during Australia’s tragic summer, when the future finally bore down on us. And there are few writers of climate fiction – or ‘cli-fi’, the term coined by activist blogger Dan Bloom and popularised in a tweet by Margaret Atwood – who so delicately straddle the conceptual divide between present and future as Bradley.

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Mary Ann Evans arrived in London from country Warwickshire in 1851 into an environment of intellectuals who believed in the progress of the human spirit through criticism of superstition and the application of science. Working first as a translator and critic, she became for a time the editor of the Westminster Review, a journal that had been turned by John Stuart Mill into a forum for philosophical radicals. Evans had plans to write a critique of the doctrine of immorality but her partner, George Lewes, who was famous for a work on the lives of philosophers, encouraged her to write fiction. She began with sketches of rural life using the name George Eliot.

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Suzy Freeman-Greene reviews 'Beauty' by Bri Lee

Suzy Freeman-Greene
Monday, 16 December 2019

My local shopping centre has seven nail bars, two waxing salons, and a brow bar. A cosmetic surgery clinic touts ‘facial line softening’ and ‘hydra facials’. A laser skin clinic offers cosmetic injections. Three other beauty temples offer ‘cool sculpting’, ‘eyelash perms’, and ‘light therapy’ for skin. I live in a gentrified, working-class suburb in Melbourne’s inner west. I’ve never set foot in these beauty shops, but they’re replicating like cells.

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Two of the greatest Australian crime writers died within six months of each other in 2018. Peter Temple authored nine novels, four of which featured roustabout Melbourne private detective Jack Irish, and one of which, Truth, won the Miles Franklin Literary Award in 2010. Temple died on 8 March 2018, aged seventy-one. Peter Corris was more prolific, writing a staggering eighty-eight books across his career, including historical fiction, biography, sport, and Pacific history. Forty-two of those highlighted the travails of punchy Sydney P.I. Cliff Hardy. Corris died on 30 August 2018, seventy-six and virtually blind.

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Johanna Leggatt reviews 'The Topeka School' by Ben Lerner

Johanna Leggatt
Monday, 16 December 2019

Modern US culture has a peculiar love of the extracurricular world of teenagers, valorising the spelling bees, debating competitions, and varsity-level football games of its youth. In Ben Lerner’s new novel, The Topeka School, the interscholastic debating trophy is so sought after that tournaments resemble verbal combat, in which high-school competitors rely on sly technique rather than substance. Witness the use of what our teenage protagonist, Adam Gordon, aptly refers to as ‘the spread’: a rapid-fire, near-hysterical diatribe designed to deliver so many arguments in such a short amount of time that the opposing team will be unable to address each point.

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