Australian Fiction

This is a fascinating publication. The first book by Wiradjuri author John Muk Muk Burke, Bridge of Triangles, is really free-form short fiction than a novel proper. Novella length, it is episodic, impressionistic, often poetic and open­ended. And, while it has many strengths, this 1993 winner of the David Unaipon Award for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander authors is ultimately a disquieting piece of work.

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Are you a regional writer?

I suppose I am, if your definition of a regional writer is someone who evokes atmosphere and themes which have a particular relevance for a region. Firstly, to take the most obvious thing there has always been a particular buccaneering business style, dating from the days of the goldrush of the 1890s and in various eras since, and the whole 1980s materialistic era was written even larger on the West Coast than other places. Going even further back in historical terms when you think of the peculiarities of the exploration of this coast, both by the French and the Dutch, that is something which distinguishes the West Coast. Because of my particular enthusiasm for history and research and canvassing matters of the early exploration, it is a theme which has found its way into three or four of my books.

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Okay I’ve just finished reading Tim Winton’s The Riders. I’ve scribbled notes on pages all the way through, but I don’t want to go back and consult them. Who wants to return to hell?

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This is a dazzling book. A sprawling, sensual, rambunctious marvel of a novel, it drives its readers out of their everyday world and every comfortable preconception. It takes enormous risks, not least that of demanding our understanding for the monstrous.

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The trial of Lindy Chamberlain drew the fascinated attention of most Australians when it was reported day and night in every media outlet. It moved into a different but equally popular mode with the publication of John Bryson’s documentary novel Evil Angels and the screening of Fred Schepisi’s film of the same name. The novel not only won a clutch of awards but was translated into nine languages, a sufficient achievement to earn its author an enduring international reputation and to globalise what might otherwise have been a short-lived local curiosity. Bryson’s account picked up the dramatic intensity of the Central Australian setting and the human agonies of the players, as well as the universal issues, such as justice and prejudice, that towered over the Rock and the courtroom.

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Drift by Brian Castro

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July 1994, no. 162

You can’t help wondering which came first for Brian Castro – the theme/structure of his new novel or the M. C. Escher woodcut reproduced on its cover. It doesn’t seem possible that such an organic match should be fortuitous, although one of Escher’s soubriquets is ‘the poet of the impossible’, and among writers Castro is a prime candidate to share the title. Now that it has been drawn to my attention it is also of course obvious that the seaside hotel in After China was built to Escher specifications.

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It seems like a slender connecting thread, but reading Kate Grenville’s new novel, Dark Places, reminded me of an experience I had hoped I’d forgotten: reading American Psycho. Reading stories with repellent narrators is like being left alone in a locked room with somebody you’d edge away from if you met him, or her, in a bar.

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Jessica Anderson’s One of the Wattle Birds celebrates the painful arrival into adulthood of Cecily Ambruss. Cecily is nineteen years old. She lives in a flat with her boyfriend, Wil, who, appropriately in view of his name, is studying Law. Cecily is an English student and during the three days over which the novel is set they are both preparing for end-of­year exams. They are a bright, intelligent, attractive couple. The previous year they backpacked through Europe and India with four friends. Workmen are making a racket in the building where they live (this novel moves between noise and silence) and things are a bit hectic and scattered but not unbearable. In fact, Cecily’s life seems to be following a fairly conventional path towards marriage and a comfortable future in one of Sydney’s pleasanter suburbs.

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Mad Meg by Sally Morrison

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May 1994, no. 160

Midway through Sally Morrison’s new novel, Mad Meg, I began to develop the scissor twitch, an almost overwhelming urge to cut it up and reassemble it into a new structure. Not quite the vandalism it suggests – I read Mad Meg in galley pages, which encourages scissorly desires. It is a vast, kaleidoscopic novel, which opens with a wonderful mischievous energy, full of surprises and pleasures, and laconic wit. Yet it begins to teeter midway and, in my view, ends in unnecessary disarray. Hence the twitch.

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Janine Burke in Lullaby, is writing about writing-out. Her character, Bea, is a writer with a block, seemingly precipitated by the failure of a marriage and the temporary loss of a recent lover, but the author is trying for much more than just this one story, which looks, on the evi­dence of the first chapter, to have more than enough fuel in it for a novel.

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