Browsing No 251 - May, 2003 by Title
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ItemAdvances, Contents, Letters, Imprints and Contributors.(Australian Book Review, 2003-05)This item contains miscellaneous information from this issue. ItemBack Chat. "Spooling Through: An Irreverent Memoir" by Tim Bowden. [review](Australian Book Review, 2003-05) McFarlane, BrianAnyone who remembers the amiable host of the ABC’s television show "Backchat", which he compèred for eight years from 1986, will not be surprised to learn that Tim Bowden has written a breezily readable memoir. Its pages seem to turn of their own volition. Like many an autobiographer before him, Bowden sometimes overestimates how much one wants to know of the japesy aspects of his early life or of escapades that may have been fun at the time but which belong to the 'you probably had to be there' category for full appreciation. The overall effect is chronological-anecdotal, rather than more eloquently shaped. It is a life worth the telling, professionally useful and privately fulfilling. And you can scarcely take exception to a man who could play tunes on his teeth - and who did so on national television. ItemBestsellerdoom. "Warra Warra: A Ghost Story" by John Scott. [review](Australian Book Review, 2003-05) Anderson, DonThis novel has a controlled opening, a reasonable tone. But soon control will not avail and the irrational will hold sway, though Scott will maintain a firm control over his plot, with developments and reversals proceeding calmly, which is more than can be said for the unfortunate townsfolk of Warra Warra. Anderson would like to wish John Scott all the successes of bestsellerdom, if that be what he wants. He can't, however, help feeling that he has fallen between two stools. "The Architect" should have received the rewards and recognition it deserved. ItemA Big Boutique. "The Best Australian Essays 2002" by Peter Craven (ed). [review](Australian Book Review, 2003-05) James, CliveAfter only four annual volumes, "The Best Australian Essays" has reached the point where the law of increasing expectations begins to kick in. By now the series has done so much that we want it to do everything. Speaking as an Australian who lives offshore, Clive James would be well pleased if each volume could contain, on every major issue, a pair of essays best presenting the two most prominent opposing views. This would give me some assurance that I was hearing both sides of the national discussion on each point, despite my being deprived of access to many of the publications in which essays, under one disguise or another, nowadays originate. But the editor, Peter Craven, could easily point out that my wish is a pipedream. ItemBlack Jests. "The Mindless Ferocity of Sharks" by Brett D'Arcy. [review](Australian Book Review, 2003-05) Pierce, PeterBrett D'Arcy's novel, arrestingly titled "The Mindless Ferocity of Sharks", is one of the most unusual and accomplished to be published in Australia for years. The setting is a decaying town called the Bay on the coast of Western Australia, south of Perth. Its abattoir and tanneries have long since closed. The locals are sufficiently hostile to have fended off development - so far. They endure the summer invasion of the 'townies' who come for the great surfing. During the rest of the year, they enjoy it without interruption. ItemCourtroom Knuckledusters. "Lee's Law: How Singapore Crushes Dissent" by Chris Lydgate and "The Mahathir Legacy: A Nation Divided, A Region At Risk" by Ian Stewart. [review](Australian Book Review, 2003-05) Mares, PeterSingapore and Malaysia have a lot in common beyond a shared border and a shared colonial heritage. Both countries have been dominated for decades by one strong leader - Lee Kuan Yew in Singapore, Dr Mahathir Mohamad in Malaysia. Both have a weak Opposition and a muzzled media. Both have an internal security act inherited from the British, and which is used to detain people without trial. In both countries, the common law system has been bent into ugly new shapes to silence dissent. Each of these books traces the fate of a man who dared to challenge the leader but failed, crushed by an adversary with superior tactics, greater political strength and, above all, more sway in the courts. ItemDegrees in Inequality. "Undemocratic Schooling: Equity and Quality in Mass Secondary Education in Australia" by Richard Teese and John Polesel. [review](Australian Book Review, 2003-05) Snyder, IlanaThis book has a number of admirable qualities. In times when open subscription to a social justice agenda runs the risk of ridicule, it is a brave book. It does not shy away from identifying the universities - specifically, the sandstones - as integral to any explanation of why Australian secondary education is inequitable. And both authors work in one: the University of Melbourne. The book also builds a compelling case for curriculum and structural reform. Through the careful analysis of issues such as retention and dropout rates, the relation between poverty and achievement, and between gender and achievement, it argues potently that our education system is disturbingly riven by persistent inequalities of opportunity. ItemDoctorates in Mateyness. "HIH: This Inside Story of Australia's Biggest Corporate Collapse" by Mark Westfield. [review](Australian Book Review, 2003-05) Haigh, GideonIf you like business bodice-rippers, these are blissful days. After the host of books that emerged from the dotcom Götterdämmerung, another wave of cautionary tales has hit the shelves. I reached for Mark Westfield’s "HIH" after reading my third book about Enron, Mimi Swartz’s "Power Failure", and was struck at once by a casual coincidence: that both Enron's Ken Lay and HIH’s Ray Williams insisted on being referred to as 'Doctor'. In Lay's case, this was on account of his PhD in economics. Williams laid rather flimsier claim to his honorific, after Monash University rewarded him for various endowments with an honorary doctorate in laws in 1999. ItemEdgar's Finesse. "Lost in the Foreground" by Stephen Edgar. [review](Australian Book Review, 2003-05) Beveridge, JudithStephen Edgar's fifth volume, "Lost in the Foreground", is a book of marvels, both technically and in the elegant, magisterial reach of its content. He is wonderfully inventive, and his complex rhyme schemes and forms are achieved with such precision and finesse that one can only conjecture as to how long each piece must have taken to become so lovingly and artfully realised. ItemFather Abraham. "Lincoln" by Thomas Keneally. [review](Australian Book Review, 2003-05) Merwick, DonnaWeidenfield & Nicholson were both wise and fortunate in their choice of Thomas Keneally to write a study of Abraham Lincoln for their "Lives" series. He in turn gifted them, and us, with a story that listens closely to Lincoln's words and sees some shape in the internal and external demons that so often troubled his life. Keneally’s narrative moves quietly alongside the Illinois rail-splitter as Lincoln transforms himself from local small-time politician to President of the USA. ItemFraying Nerves. "The Hamilton Case" by Michelle de Kretser. [review](Australian Book Review, 2003-05) Jones, Gail"The Hamilton Case", Michelle de Kretser’s magnificent second novel, takes as its philosophical focus the opposition of forms of knowledge, but presumes from the outset that fiction knows more than the law does. Its modes of inquiry - following casuistically the odd detail, the quirky story, the ineluctably precious registers of affect and memory - reveal what in stricter forms is inadmissible. Significantly, the 'case' itself is given little narrative space; what preoccupies the author are the lives loosely constellated around its historical moment, and the ramification of themes of witness, judgment and loss. "The Hamilton Case" is an eloquent, sophisticated and immensely satisfying work of art. But its chief claim lies in its intelligent consideration of the ethics of judgment, and a process in which the serendipitous imaginary recovers the faces that defeat the faceless barbarities of history. ItemGlobal Babble. Review of "Implicating Empire: Globalization and Resistance in the 21st Century World Order" by Stanley Aronowitz and Heather Gautney (eds).(Australian Book Review, 2003-05) Beilharz, PeterThese days, every respectable academic needs to have a book about globalisation, on pain of death. In the 1990s the compulsory theme was citizenship; this decade, globalisation. Empire or imperialism remains the Marxist spin on globalisation. Some of the geopolitical analysis in "Implicating Empire" is astute, not least when it comes to detecting the limits of the earlier modern claims about the sacred sovereignty of nation states. This is an uneven collection: no surprises there. Its subject matter can be as hilarious as it is earnest. In one place, for example, one writer seriously quotes herself at length as an authority, which is taking even North American academic self-referentiality a little too far. The subject matter otherwise remains as pressing as it is ubiquitous. ItemHidden behind Razor Wire. "Asylum: Voices Behing the Razor Wire" by Heather Tyler. [review](Australian Book Review, 2003-05) Sallis, EvaThis important book succeeds in forcing us tosee and hear the individuals hidden from knowledge and understanding behind the razor wire of Australia's detention centres. Direct contact with people's stories is one of the most potent counters to the prevailing climate of fear and dislike. Stories individualise, give voice and bring people close to us. Stories also draw us in, so that we want to know more. Every detainee encountered in the pages of this book has an ongoing story that Sallis now wants to explore. This is a testament to the role stories play in countering dehumanisation and generalisation; but it is also a testament to Tyler's passionate journalism and skilled storytelling. ItemThe Hollowing of the Middle Class. "The Experience of Middle Australia: The Dark Side of Economic Reform" by Michael Pusey. [review](Australian Book Review, 2003-05) Murphy, JohnIs the great white middle class endangered in Australia? If it is, does it matter greatly? Michael Pusey answers 'Yes' on both counts. He argues that we are seeing a 'hollowing out of the middle'. If he is right, this hollowing out has significant consequences. Both major political parties have spent decades courting the wannabe middle class - from Robert Menzies' 'forgotten people' to Gough Whitlam's outer suburbanites, and from Mark Latham's 'aspirational' voters to the recipients of John Howard’s tax welfare and handouts for private schools. A significant contraction of this constituency would create political shock waves. In addition, the decline of the middle class would throw an interesting light on our current prime minister who, more than anyone since Menzies, has represented middle-class values and aspirations while championing the radical economic restructuring that Pusey sees as leading to the decline of the middle class. ItemAn Intricate Dance. "Whatever the Gods Do: A Memoir" by Patti Miller. [review](Australian Book Review, 2003-05) Tuffield, AvivaThe intricate patterns woven into these descriptions of human interactions do serve to highlight the banality of some of Miller's reflections, dreams and her singing lessons, which she has chosen to bear the symbolic weight of this book. Tuffield suspects that Miller has learnt some of her "Writing Your Life" lessons too well. In this manual, she emphasises the importance of symbolic imagery as a key to memory, recommending free association across random memories. Moreover, while her writing handbook recognises the importance of structure, she advises: 'Structure created before the fact of writing is artificial and limiting … I like to leave a discussion of structure until plenty of writing has been done.' These comments provide insight into the failings of "Whatever": Miller has followed her tips for sparking the fuse of memory and stimulating the flow of writing, but life-writing still requires crafting, sifting and artful re-membering before publication. ItemLetter From Beirut.(Australian Book Review, 2003-05) El-Zein, AbbasIt has been raining all week, persistent drizzle unlike the brief downpours that are more typical of Beirut. The city is slumbering. El-Zein am staying with his parents. His father goes out less often. His mother is snuggled under the blankets. She hopes the war won’t happen. The kettle is boiling like a purring cat. The house is quiet. Rain is the soporific of cities. ItemThe Long Trek. "Burke's Soldier" by Alan Attwood. [review](Australian Book Review, 2003-05) McGirr, MichaelAlan Attwood's fictional account of the Victorian Exploration Expedition, long known as the Burke and Wills Expedition, is told through the eyes of a man who has often been overlooked. John King - a soldier, not a gentleman - was the sole survivor of the mission.There is an inventive twist in "Burke's Soldier". It is a pity that it takes so long to get to it. The last quarter of the book meanders past every person and event of the 1860s. Marcus Clarke, Captain Moonlite, the first Test cricket team, the first Melbourne Cup and the US Civil War all turn up to dissipate the focus of the novel in its closing stages. Attwood takes the long way home, but at least, unlike Burke and Wills, he makes it. The real survivor is the one who controls the story. ItemLosses and Gains. "Ministers, Mandarins and Diplomats: Australian Foreign Policy Making, 1941-1969" by Joan Beaumont et al. [review](Australian Book Review, 2003-05) Edwards, PeterThis book is an important contribution towards understanding the milieu in which Australia's foreign policy was formed, between 1941 and 1969. It does so principally by looking at the interaction of successive foreign ministers with the public servants in what was then known as the Department of External Affairs. These public servants included both those serving in Canberra and those in diplomatic missions abroad. The authors - Joan Beaumont, Christopher Waters, David Lowe, with Garry Woodard - are three historians and a former diplomat who has turned historian in his retirement. They have included a good deal of fresh research, while also crystallising views that have been outlined or implied in earlier publications. Unusually for a multi-authored book, they have coordinated their contributions remarkably smoothly.