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Even the cover design of Sheila Fitzpatrick’s memoir gave me something to ponder. The title, which signals the father–daughter story, is linked with an engaging seaside photograph of the two of them. The father’s swimming trunks and the daughter’s bathing cap have an authentic 1940s look. Add to that a bland subtitle, Memories of an Australian Childhood, and the tough confrontations of the text may come as a surprise.

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The political assassination of Kevin Rudd will fascinate for a long time to come. As with Duncan’s murder in Shakespeare’s play it was done, as Lady Macbeth cautioned, under ‘the blanket of the dark’, literally the night of 23–24 June 2010. The assassins heeded Macbeth’s advice: ‘if it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well it were done quickly.’ And as in Macbeth, the assassins were in the shadow of the throne. Even the old king approved: Bob Hawke, himself deposed in 1991, recognised at last that the removal of a Labor prime minister is sometimes necessary.

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In October 2009, Shirley Hazzard spoke at the New York launch of the Macquarie PEN Anthology of Australian Literature. Hazzard read from People in Glass Houses, her early collection of satirical stories about the UN bureaucracy. Her appearance serves to remind Australian readers that Hazzard continues to occupy a defining, if somewhat attenuated, place within the expansive field of what Nicholas Jose described in 2008, on taking up the annual Harvard Chair of Australian Studies, as ‘writing that engage[s] us with the international arena from the Australian perspective’. Jose went on to cite Hazzard’s most recent novel, The Great Fire (2003), as part of ‘a range of material which Americans would not necessarily think of as Australian’.

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In Peter Temple’s phenomenally successful The Broken Shore (2005), detective Joe Cashin wonders what the right result might be in the case of murdered businessman and philanthropist Charles Bourgoyne. Lawyer and romantic interest Helen Castleman’s answer is succinct: ‘The truth’s the right result.’ The truth of The Broken Shore was murky, disturbing and came with a price ...

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Sir Maurice Bowra, renowned as the most lively and learned don in Britain, if not in all Europe, reigned supreme as Warden of Wadham College Oxford for more than three decades until his retirement in 1970. This long-expected biography, diligently researched for many years by the late Michael Davie, London-based author, journalist, and former editor of the Melbourne Age, has now been expertly completed by Oxford historian Leslie Mitchell, who writes with the ease and authority of a biographer thoroughly acquainted with his subject and the College over which he long presided: though not, perhaps, with the sharply quizzical eye that Davie, working outside that golden circle, might have trained on both.

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The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas

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November 2008, no. 306

In early 2018, Christos Tsiolkas published a long essay as part of a series commissioned by the Sydney branch of PEN, an organisation dedicated to freedom of expression. ‘Tolerance’, which appeared in Tolerance, Prejudice and Fear (2008), is an interesting document, not least for the way it highlights how compelling yet exasperating a writer Tsiolkas can be.

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At a time when some fiction writers are busy defending their right to incorporate autobiographical elements, and some non-fiction writers are being charged with fabrication, it seems timely of Nam Le to begin his collection of stories with one that plays with notions of authenticity in literature ...

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Breath by Tim Winton

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May 2008, no. 301

One of the intriguing things about Breath, Tim Winton’s first novel in seven years, is that it has a number of affinities with his very first book, An Open Swimmer (1982). Both are coming-of-age novels that attempt to capture some of the confusion and melancholy of youth ...

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Almost thirty years on, in a post-Samaranch age, when the wealthy Olympic movement mimics the United Nations in world affairs, the 1980 Moscow Games resemble prehistory, especially for Australian athletes, officials and spectators still revering 2000 Sydney successes. Yet as Lisa Forrest recounts, the Moscow boycott shredded the traditional views of Australian sports people, ensured national sport would become more politicised, and produced shameful behaviour all round.

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The year was 1911. Four months after beginning work on a new novel, Henry Handel Richardson admitted to herself the ambitious scope of her new project: ‘I have another Colosse on hand, & it begins to grow, though slowly.’ This aptly nicknamed project was eventually to become the trilogy we know as The Fortunes of Richard Mahony, which was to occupy its author for the next twenty years. Length is not synonymous with ‘greatness’, of course.  At almost eleven hundred printed pages, some readers have resented its bulk. At the same time, relatively few have had the opportunity to read the original volumes. Others have been puzzled by its combination of naturalism and allegory, and many more have been struck by an epic quality in its scope and vision. Kylie Tennant assured her readers in 1973 that ‘should any TV producer ever … take the great myth of Richard Mahony into the television medium, a new generation would discover that Mahony is not just a piece of Victorian literary furniture, but has the same weird power to grip an audience as Hamlet or Lear. For if ever there was a myth figure it was Richard Mahony.’ Richardson herself believed that her intention had been ‘to treat the chief features of colonial life in epic fashion’. Dorothy Green argued in 1970 that the novel should be seen as ‘not merely an emigrant novel of early colonial Victoria, but … [as] a part of the intellectual history of European civilisation in the nineteenth century.’ Even so, Michael Gow condensed this epic into a 66-page, two-act, domesticated playscript, performed at the Brisbane Powerhouse and the Melbourne CUB Malthouse in 2002.

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