Kerryn Goldsworthy

‘The characters which survive,’ wrote Hilary McPhee at seventeen in the copy of Thomas Hardy’s The Return of the Native that she studied in her tiny matriculation class at Colac High in 1958, ‘are those who make some compromise with their surroundings ...

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I recently took part in a forum on contemporary Australian fiction, a discussion during which the publisher on the panel talked about popular and/or ‘middlebrow’ fiction, and about her ire with reviewers who either simply trashed such novels, or else insisted on emphasising their status as ‘popular fiction’, and on discussing them within the context of its generic expectations and limitations.

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The Stranger Inside is billed on its own front cover as ‘an erotic adventure’. The title would be considerably more innocuous if the book didn’t announce itself as erotica, but once it does, the phrase ‘the stranger inside’ suddenly becomes suggestive in the extreme. It’s a good title, partly because grammar renders it fruitfully ambiguous: apart from the obvious implication, it could also mean ‘the inner alien’ (a fragment of psychobabble, as in ‘the inner child’), or perhaps ‘the more peculiar interior’ (as in ‘my inside is stranger than yours’). Whichever way you read it inside the body, inside the book, inside the soul the phrase suggests that eroticism depends on a combination of interiority and mystery.

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Sisters by Drusilla Modjeska

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September 1993, no. 154

A few years ago, there was a great song on the radio, a song about remembering riding with an assortment of brothers and sisters in the back seat of the car. I don’t even recall the name of the song, much less the name of the band, but there was a line in the chorus that used to wipe me out: ‘And we all have our daddy’s eyes.’

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Gwen Foster met Lieutenant Thomas Riddell in Brisbane in 1942, when she was twenty­two. ‘Tony’ Riddell, stationed in Brisbane, was sent to Darwin early in 1943; and between January and September of that year, Gwen Foster wrote him the eighty-nine letters that make up this book. It’s the chronicle of a year, of a city, of a family, of a friendship, of a war no one could see an end to, and of that stage in the life of a gifted young woman at which she says, ‘At present I am unsettled and do not know which way my life will turn.’

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North of the Moonlight Sonata by Kerryn Goldsworthy & The House Tibet by Georgia Savage

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November 1989, no. 116

In the title story of Kerryn Goldsworthy’s impressive first collection, a man and a woman are travelling inland from the city towards the point where main roads give way to obscure tracks. Their relationship is failing, though they have yet to admit this to each other.

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I don’t usually reply to Letters to the Editor, but … Since this lot (see opposite) is particularly atrabilious, a lovely word I have just learned from Don Anderson, I feel moved to make a few mild replies. Ken Gelder and Gerard Windsor are big boys now and can look after themselves, but I will say that John Carroll’s is the only negative response I have seen or heard to Windsor’s June Self Portrait (there were lots of positive ones, although Gerard did get a tad upstaged by his small son). I should also like to point out to John Carroll that Norman Mailer was reduced to his correct proportions years ago (‘brought down’, if you will – funny how Mailer’s name irresistibly suggests these metaphors of detumescence) by an assortment of immortal feminists who most certainly do not need any help from me, and as far as I am concerned the basic difference between Norman Mailer and John Hooker is that John Hooker is a serious human being. If I did indeed take a tone of unbecoming admonition, it seems to me that John Carroll has caught it; there’s a lurking sub-text to his letter best expressed as ‘Naughty girl, silly girl, stop it now or Daddy will smack.’

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‘If you can’t say something nice,’ my mother always said, ‘don’t say anything at all.’ (I pinch this opening gambit, shamelessly, from Kate Grenville’s Self-Portrait in the last ABR, and hope she does not mind; imitation is the sincerest form etc.) Apropos of parental expectations regarding niceness-or-silence, however, I am reminded of a remark of Elizabeth Jolley’s: ‘I think my mother wanted a princess, and she got me instead.’

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This year’s annual conference of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature was held in mid-July at James Cook University in Townsville, to which some two hundred delegates flocked to soak up ideas, information, sunshine, and the odd ale. Everybody had a good time except possibly the indefatigable organisers, Tony Hassall, Robert Dixon, and Stephen Torre, who, if they were not too exhausted to enjoy themselves, ought to have been. In general, the relaxed and benign atmosphere one has come to know and love at ASAL conferences prevailed.

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Yacker by Candida Baker & Rooms of Their Own by Jennifer Ellison

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July 1986, no. 82

Why do we like interviews so much? There must be a reason. Maybe it’s the lure – too often, alas, as in lurid – of confession: the ‘X Reveals All’ syndrome that deceives the mind into thinking it has always wanted to know what it is (finally) about to be told; or the more elevated sense of privilege and honour felt by those in whom such truths are confided.

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