Australian Book Review

Professor Hassall’s study of Randolph Stow is indeed a strange country. A text which sets out to establish Stow as ‘a more important writer than is generally recognized’ and to show that his ‘best work bears comparison with Patrick White’s’ promises an intellectual engagement with either critics or the text or both which would lead to reassessment of Stow’s work. It appears that these are Aunt Sally’s – although Professor Leonie Kramer, who is presented as one of Stow’s ‘sterner “realist” critics’, can hardly be seen as such an aunt. Hassall puts her up but barely touches her, leaving the counterargument to Dorothy Green. Perhaps he’s being gentlemanly. However, to quote a paragraph from Green which asserts that ‘One of the greatest weaknesses of Australian criticism has always been its refusal to take religious ideas seriously’ is to take advantage of the lady. Hassall needs to fight his own battle against Leonie Kramer’s judgement of Stow’s work as being ‘quasi-religious’ and misguidedly experimental.

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Professor Mulvaney’s thematic history of encounters between outsiders and Aboriginal Australians is developed through a discussion of events located in specific places. He has selected places which are in the Register of the National Estate (many of which he initially nominated) or are being considered for inclusion. The places, then, are by definition part of Australia’s cultural heritage, and an important focus of the book is to illuminate some of the types of events which have shaped Australian society.

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This is John A. Scott’s sixth collection of poems since 1975. The volume is slim but not thin. Each poem encompasses its observation, reflection, or moment from which departures are measured, as the positives and negatives of ‘delicious solitude’ are weighed. Amid urban blues, bar-speak, team games and the distorting foci of others’ projections, the ‘predicate adjective alone’ evokes either dignity, pathos, or something in between. Scott considers the prospects.

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Jane Cotter reviews 'Dreamhouse' by Kate Grenville

Jane Cotter
Thursday, 19 November 2020

Dreamhouse, written before the wonderful Lilian’s Story (1984 Vogel winner), was the Vogel runner-up in 1983. Kate Grenville’s writing in this novel is clear-headed, strong, both witty and humorous, and above all lifts the imagination high. Dreamhouse wins my ‘Chortle, Gasp’ Prize for black comedy incorporating a design award for ‘best romantic fiction parody’ (it could have been called A Summer in Tuscany). It’s a darkly delightful book to read. Subversion of romantic expectations is immediate, ingenious, and horribly funny. Louise Dufrey is one half of an unlovely couple whose marriage looks perfect but is actually defunct.

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Geoffrey Dutton reviews 'A Body of Water' by Beverley Farmer

Geoffrey Dutton
Monday, 16 November 2020

In this new book, Beverley Farmer quotes George Steiner: ‘In modernism collage has been the representative device.’ The blurb calls A Body of Water a montage. Well, it’s a difficult book to describe. It’s not a pasting together, there’s no smell of glue about it. Nor is it put together, plonk, thunk, like stones. It’s rather, in her own words, an interweaving.

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‘I never thought Australia needed culture of any kind,’ drawls Barry Humphries in Not Quite Hollywood, Mark Hartley’s recent documentary on Australian ‘trash’ cinema of the 1970s and 1980s. Perverse aesthete that he is, Humphries cannot resist the idea that lack of refinement might be a sign of vitality: ‘Culture is yoghurt, isn’t it, or mould? It grows on decaying things.’

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Shirley Walker reviews 'Dove' by Barbara Hanrahan

Shirley Walker
Friday, 02 October 2020

In Dove, the familiar Barbara Hanrahan ingredients – acute realism and the fantastic, the grotesque – are combined once again to produce yet another powerful and moving novel. The scale of realism and fantasy is, as always, finely balanced. The various locations of the novel, for instance, are beautifully realised. Hanrahan has the eye of the graphic artist for the broad canvas, the sweep of light and sky, and the telling detail. Her eye ranges from the Adelaide Hills to the suburbs of ‘pebble dash and pit­tosporum’ to the Mallee: ‘an antipodean jungle of stiff splintered branches, a mysterious pearly-grey gloom’ interspersed with the ‘faraway rash of green’ that is the wheat. Yet there is more to landscape than this; place is used throughout to evoke psychic states. Appleton, for instance, suggests beatitude and primal innocence. Arden Valley the fairytale potential for the transformation of life, and the Mallee the promised land of plenteous crops and realised love.

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Judith Bishop reviews 'Change Machine' by Jaya Savige

Judith Bishop
Thursday, 24 September 2020

Change Machine is an exceptionally strong third collection. To the extent that a schematic of thesis–antithesis– synthesis applies to poets’ books, this one both exceeds and incorporates the work that came before. Intriguingly, the title poem seems a late addition, citing the pandemic in three clipped lines, borne on the shoulders of two innocuous words, should and but:

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How effective is a voice of reason in a climate of fear? In his introduction to this book, Professor Ian Lowe, president of the Australian Conservation Foundation and Emeritus Professor of Science, Technology and Society at Griffith University says that he is ‘incorrigibly optimistic’ about the role of education in assisting us to make wise decisions about our future. Over the past twenty years, he has written twelve books, including A Big Fix: Radical solutions for Australia’s environmental crisis (2005) and Living in the Hothouse: How global warming affects Australia (2005), forty-five book chapters, more than thirty journal articles and six hundred columns for various publications. That work has been written for the general public, not just the scientific community.

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Being out of print is like moving back in with your parents – it’s not usually a sign that things are on the up. But fortune’s wheel turns with scant regard for merit or effort, so it must be a relief for writers when their publishers decide to ‘celebrate their continuing contribution to Australian literature’ with a re-release of their back catalogue.

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