Australian Book Review

Rosemary Creswell reviews 'A Woman of the Future' by David Ireland

Rosemary Creswell
Monday, 28 October 2019

A Woman of the Future, David Ireland’s sixth novel, is narrated in the first person by a woman, Alethea Hunt. This kind of ‘literary transvestism’ is not new, and in any case is not essentially different from writers who, in third-person narration, inject themselves into the consciousness of a character of the opposite sex. Ireland’s book, however, is remarkable for the way in which a male writer deals obsessively with the sexual thoughts and experiences of a woman. Indeed, it may well incur the ire of feminists that a man should presume, on principle, to understand such experiences. But he handles the role with sensitivity and insight, as he traces a young girl’s awakening sexual consciousness (if it was ever asleep) through to her later contacts with boys and men, most of which are, if not brutalising, at least unsatisfying. Though she claims, even as a small child and much to the satisfaction of her liberated ‘feminist’ parents, that she is without penis envy, she exhibits an extraordinary fascination with the male sexual organ, which is usually described in terms that would make most women want to give up heterosexual intercourse permanently. If these descriptions were meant to be representative of women’s feelings, perhaps one might object, but Alethea Hunt is clearly mad, albeit in the context of a world which is far crazier.

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This is a very disturbing book. It’s not just the Chernobyl story, but also Kate Brown’s broader story about the worldwide but inadequately studied impact on public health of lifetime exposure to ‘chronic doses of man-made radiation from medical procedures, nuclear reactors and their accidents, and atomic bombs and their fall-out’. But let’s take Chernobyl first ...

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Individuals have crises; dealing with them sometimes makes a person stronger. Perhaps nation-states are similar: crises make them stronger and better. But is humanity as a whole like this? This question is raised but not answered in Jared Diamond’s Upheaval ...

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From McKinsey analyst to honoured author, New York Times correspondent, familiar face on MSNBC. Awarded a prestigious Henry Crown Fellowship at Aspen, invited onto private planes amid discussion of drinking-water projects in Kenya and improved farm supply chains in India. Not one but two TED talks ...

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Be afraid. ‘The Uninhabitable Earth’, the viral article published in New York magazine (2017) that was both fêted and scorned for its visceral bluntness, has grown out and up. A scary, 7,000-word portrait of a near-future Earth razed by climate change has matured into a deeper, darker treatise on ... 

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In 1987, Allan Bloom published his best-selling book, The Closing of the American Mind. The American mind must have remained sufficiently open to allow it, three decades hence, to be coddled. The mind that is being closed or coddled is, in the first instance, the young adult ...

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Our tutor in Japanese conversation at the Australian National University in 1968, rather than listen to us mangling his language, used to write the kanji for all the political factions on the board, with a Ramen-like chart of connections looping between them and multiple interest groups ...

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In the wake of the unexpected Brexit and Trump votes in 2016, academics and commentators have been scratching their heads trying to work out what these extraordinary events represent. The dominant narrative is that in the wake of recession and financial crisis, those doing it tough have punished the political élites ...

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There is a scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail outside a castle, brimming with French men-at-arms, who taunt King Arthur and his knights remorselessly, while the Britons are convinced that the Holy Grail lies behind the drawbridge. The Grail was, of course, membership of the Common Market ...

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The world’s best-known espionage officer, Vladimir Putin, would relish Christopher Andrew’s account of the role of his fellow practitioners at the 1816 Congress of Vienna. The secret services of France, Prussia, Britain, Russia, and Austria jostled to monitor the trysts of courtesans with the statesmen assembled in the ...

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