Australian Fiction

Children’s Book Week is traditionally a time to take an overall view of the last year’s output of children’s books. Such an overall view is necessarily superficial but it can be interesting to note the appearance of new authors and illustrators, new themes, or different treatment of old themes. This article will look at the picture books and fiction of the last twelve months.

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When the ABC asked me to adapt Roger McDonald’s novel 1915 into a major seven-part serial, I declined. Ray Alchin, producer and head of the ABC’s film studio in Sydney, looked at me with disbelief and asked me to read it again. So I read it again, twice, and thanked him for having the good sense to see its possibilities, and gratefully accepted.

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This novel raises more interesting questions about its author than about its characters and action.

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Homesickness by Murray Bail & Monkeys in the Dark by Blanche d’Alpuget

by
October 1980, no. 25

I found Murray Bail’s novel Homesickness a work of brilliant and resonant artistry, which despite many unlikely incidents, succeeds in being thoroughly credible in all its parts. It is also a desolating book, a comedy, but a very black one.

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Peter Murphy is one of the very best poets under forty writing in Australia today. He also works in the theatre. His play Glitter was performed at the Adelaide Arts Festival, and he has written the libretto for an opera with music by Helen Gifford. Black Light, his first published book of short stories, shows him to be a craftsman of the first order in yet another field.

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On one of the early chaotic army days of World War II in France, I was combining the disagreeable tasks of eating and censoring letters home written by the men in my section.

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I know nothing of David Martin’s childhood or family, but I think that he must come from a long line of slayers of dragons, and that somewhere during the formative years of his childhood he listened to many adult conversations on social justice and human dignity. At any rate, his adult life has been spent dealing with dragons, in one way or another.

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Shalom, compiled by Nancy Keesing is I think a brilliant and moving collection of short stories.

Ms Keesing, an indefatigable compiler, has brought together for the first time a selection of Jewish stories and. arranged them in three sections, each one of which throws light on a certain aspect of Jewish life, either in Europe, in Australia over a long period, or in the present Australia-Israel conflict. This is a fine and sensitive arrangement of the stories.

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In The Mango Tree, McKie captured through a rich and tightly controlled prose the pain and bewilderment attendant on the shifting of a child’s consciousness towards the adult. At the same time, he evoked the shapes and textures of the remembered world of a Queensland town, of a way of life in the act of changing, with a muted note of lament. In Bitter Bread, there is a curious mixture of the mellow prose of The Mango Tree and passages where McKie’s control is loose, passages which spill over into the maudlin and smudge into bathos. Its narrative has not the inner logic of the earlier novel, tending to dart off into peripheral characters and events only limply tied to the central narrative line. At times, McKie seems to be shying away from the task of exploring the central relationship of two widely different consciousnesses caught up together in Melbourne during the Depression.

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Divorce Dilemma is a book for those contemplating divorce, but it should be compulsory reading for those contemplating marriage! Warwick Hartin brings a wealth of research and practical experience to this clear and searching analysis of divorce and marriage in our society. He courageously examines the sacrosanct institution of marriage, our reasons for marrying, the divorce rate and the effect of divorce on children.

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