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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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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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Last year, in the Australian Book Review/La Trobe University Annual Lecture series, Ian Donaldson gave a sparkling talk on biography. He told us that it has emerged as something of a cultural phenomenon in recent years, with a biography section at the front of many bookshops. We now know that the genre has endless possibilities (biographers have written about London, Paris, the pineapple and the potato), and that, despite its dissenters, biography has even become acceptable within the academy. My brother, a paediatrician who works in intensive care, has been known to end telephone conversations by saying: ‘Gotta go, got lives to save.’ Ever since Ian Donaldson’s talk, with its wonderful title, ‘Matters of Life and Death: The Return of Biography’ (ABR, November 2006), I have felt able to say: ‘Gotta go, got lives to write.’

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There is a mesmerising scene in Carpentaria when Joseph Midnight is asked if he has seen the fugitive Will Phantom, a young local Aboriginal man who is single-handedly waging a guerrilla war against a large lead ore mining company. He eyes the questioner and astutely spots him as a ‘Southern blackfella …

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Critics often comment on the ‘shape’ a poem makes – not the concrete form of the words on the page, but the poem’s conceptual trajectory, the statement, development and resolution (or lack thereof) of its central theme. What is most striking about Robert Adamson’s first collection of poems published in North America, The Goldfinches of Baghdad, however, is the shape the collection makes as a whole ...

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Swallow the Air by Tara June Winch

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June-July 2006, no. 282

Swallow the Air won the 2004 David Unaipon Award for Indigenous Writers. Judging by this slender volume of work, the choice was a judicious one. Thematically, Tara June Winch’s début effort travels along the well-worn path of fiction based on personal experiences, with the protagonist propelling the narrative through a journey of self-discovery. In this respect, Swallow the Air nestles snugly in the semi-autobiographical framework favoured by first novelists, but the sophistication and subtlety of the prose belie Winch’s age; she is twenty-two, but writes with the élan of those much more accomplished. Swallow the Air can either be read as a novel with short chapters or as a series of interlinked short stories.

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If you can say immediately what you think a novel is ‘about’, then the chances are that it may not be a very good novel. Fiction as a genre gives writers and readers imaginative room to move, to work on a vertical axis of layers of meaning as well as along the horizontal forward movement of narrative development ...

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